PennEast Proposes Route Changes to Lessen Environmental Impact

Tom Johnson | September 26, 2016 | Energy & Environment
Conservationists raise concerns that modifications were announced after public comment period was over

natural gas pipeline
Beset with criticism about the environmental impacts of its project, the developer of the PennEast natural-gas pipeline is proposing dozens of modifications to its route through parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The PennEast Pipeline Company LLC Friday filed new changes to its pipeline route with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, including seven in New Jersey. All told, the company made 33 modifications to the 118-mile route, adding two miles in the process.

The changes minimize environmental impacts by modifying the route to run along existing transmission lines — avoiding wildlife habitats and reducing tree clearing, according to the company. No new landowners are affected by the revisions, the company said.

But critics argued that the modifications — made after public comment closed on a draft environmental impact statement — demonstrate the harm posed by building the pipeline and called on regulators to undertake a new analysis of the project.

“It’s pretty significant route changes — both in New Jersey and Pennsylvania,’’ said Tom Gilbert, campaign director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “It calls into question the whole EIS.’’

Not a single federal or state agency voiced any support for the projects submitted on its EIS, Gilbert noted. “FERC must withdraw the application to fully evaluate a no-action alternative.’’

But Pat Kornick, a spokeswoman for PennEast, said the company submitted its route modification based on comments made by the public and government agencies and were responsive to their recommendations.

The changes reduce the permanent impacts on forested wetlands by 64 percent; curb impacts to endangered species, including a known salamander habitat in Delaware Township; and incorporate 23 additional trenchless crossings to reduce impacts to pristine waterways

“We are continually reviewing the PennEast Pipeline project, seeking ways to maximize the benefits to the region by improving the route and reducing environmental impacts,’’ said Peter Terranova, chair of the company’s board of managers.

Among other things, PennEast is trying to reduce crossings in the Gravel Hill Preserve in Holland Township by aligning the route along power lines of Public Service Electric & Gas, one of the utilities sponsoring the project.

Critics, however, are worried the project could adversely impact drinking water supplies by mobilizing naturally occurring arsenic into groundwater, a concern also identified by the U.S. Department of the Interior. In addition, Suez Water of New Jersey expressed concerns about the project’s potentially disrupting supplies at the Swan Creek Reservoir.

The $1 billion-plus project begins in Luzerne, PA, and crosses the Delaware River into Hunterdon County before ending in Mercer County. It is one of more than a dozen new gas pipelines that have been proposed or approved in New Jersey in the past few years, most of which have faced vigorous opposition from local communities and environmental groups.

Tapping new supplies of gas from the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania and other states, the projects have been backed by the Christie administration and business interests as a way to lower energy bills for consumers and businesses.

Other opponents also called for the federal agency to start the PennEast process again. “FERC needs to go back to the drawing board and issue a new draft EIS and hold a new public process, one that includes real public hearings,’’ said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.