For the third time, a federal agency reviewing a much-contested natural-gas pipeline proposal through parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey has delayed making a key decision on the project.
The final Environmental Impact Statement for the 118-mile PennEast pipeline will be pushed back until April 7, the latest postponement in the review of the project by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
In a one-paragraph statement released by the agency yesterday, it blamed the latest delay on additional information submitted by the PennEast Pipeline Co. and certain state agencies that needs to be analyzed by the staff of the agency.
The announcement marked another small victory for a bevy of conservation and grassroots groups fighting the project, which begins in Luzerne County, PA, and crosses the Delaware River before ending in Mercer County near Trenton.
“Today’s decision reaffirms what citizens and government agencies have been saying for almost two years, that PennEast has yet to prove that the pipeline is needed or it could be constructed without significant environmental impact,’’ said Tom Gilbert, campaign director of ReThink Energy and the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
But PennEast downplayed any problems caused by the delay, saying the additional time will ensure a thorough and complete review. It still anticipates receiving final approval from the agency and having the line operational in the second half of 2018.
“PennEast is confident the project can be built safely and with minimal environmental impact and will continue to provide necessary data as FERC continues its due diligence on the project,’’ said Pat Kornick, spokewoman for PennEast.
Gilbert argued the new delay is significant because it raises questions about whether the company can provide all the information sought by the federal agency before the new deadline, particularly data on rare plants along the proposed route over two seasons.
“There’s a pattern here,’’ he said. “It’s never a good sign when there’s delay after delay after delay.’’
The announcement by the federal agency comes after the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection told the developer it wants much more information about the project before it signs off on any requisite permits.
The project is one of about a dozen that have been proposed or approved in New Jersey since vast new supplies of natural gas were found in Pennsylvania and neighboring states. The drilling has been a boon to local economies and has helped lower home heating costs in New Jersey.
The project is opposed because the route traverses dozens of stream crossings, cuts through wetlands, and open space and farmland preserved with taxpayers’ dollars.