Opponents Ask Feds to Force PennEast to Prove Pipeline Is Really Needed

A group opposing the pipeline has filed a complaint with FERC arguing New Jersey doesn’t need the natural gas that PennEast would deliver

natural gas pipeline
A group opposing the PennEast pipeline in New Jersey urged a federal agency to hold a formal hearing into whether there is a need for the project, arguing the applicant has failed to demonstrate the state needs the natural gas.

In a complaint and motion filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Eastern Environmental Law Center is seeking an evidentiary hearing before an administrative law judge assessing the need for the pipeline.

The 118-mile pipeline proposal, one of more than a dozen different pipeline projects under review or approved recently in New Jersey, would begin in Luzerne County in Pennsylvania, cross the Delaware River and parts of Hunterdon and Mercer counties.

“FERC must have substantial evidence of significant public benefit to approve PennEast’s application, but the company’s existing record fails to meet that test,’’ said Jennifer Danis, senior lawyer at EELC, which filed the complaint on behalf of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association (SBMWA).

Tom Gilbert, campaign director for the foundation, said the federal agency must answer serious question raised by the public and industry experts about the economics of the project.

Pat Kornick, a spokeswoman for the company, said PennEast is confident the project meets the market need for natural gas.

“An evidentiary hearing is duplicative and unnecessary,’’ Kornick said. “It would accomplish little other than to try to delay the energy-cost savings and jobs benefits the pipeline project will help deliver to local families and businesses.

The project has been beset by numerous delays, forcing both FERC and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to request additional information from the company, in part because of property owners refusal to allow PennEast to survey potential routes for the project.

Among other issues, the critics raised is the question of whether a natural-gas pipeline-capacity bubble is forming, an issue raised this week in testimony from the Environmental Defense Fund before Congress.

“With the magnitude of new pipeline projects under development in addition to those deployed over the past 10 years, there are signs that a gas-pipeline capacity bubble is forming,’’ Jonathan Peress told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“A capacity bubble could impose unnecessary costs on energy customers for expensive yet unneeded pipeline capacity, and ultimately constrain deployment of lower-cost energy sources like wind and solar in the future, considering the long financial lives and expense of new capacity,’’ he added.

PennEast poses serious threats to the state’s land, water, open space, and property rights, according to Jim Waltman, executive director of the SBMWA. “Before the review process moves one more step forward, the corporations advocating this private project must first demonstrate a public need for it — something they haven’t even come close to doing.’’

The opponents lined up a number of public officials in support of their motion, include two members of Congress from New Jersey and five state legislators.