PennEast Runs into More Permit Snags with Another Federal Agency

Tom Johnson | April 25, 2017 | Energy & Environment
Army Corps of Engineers says PennEast application is incomplete because it didn’t secure permission to conduct detailed environmental surveys

natural gas pipeline
Penn East is not done dealing with permits from federal agencies just yet.

The Army Corps of Engineers is the latest agency seeking more information on the controversial 120-mile pipeline project before it is ready to render a decision on the proposal.

As has happened in the past, the application by the PennEast Pipeline Co. has been deemed incomplete because the developer failed to secure permission to enter rights-of-way along the proposed route to conduct surveys, including those involving wetlands and waterways.

In a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Army Corps’ Philadelphia office said because of the lack of information, it does not know when a decision on the permits sought by PennEast would be made.

“Depending on how long it takes to gain access and if the results of the initial surveys indicate more in-depth surveys are required makes it simply impossible to determine a permit issuance date at this time,’’ according to the letter signed by Glenn Weitknecht, senior project manager for the Corps.

The problem is a familiar, if unwanted, one for PennEast. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection advised the applicant not to bother filing for crucial water permits until it submits more information the state agency is seeking. PennEast filed for the permits earlier this month, the day before FERC issued its Final Environmental Impact Statement on the project, clearing one of the major regulatory hurdles for the developer.
The project is one of the more contentious of more than a dozen new pipelines proposed in New Jersey, most seeking to tap into cheap, new natural-gas supplies in neighboring Pennsylvania. The $1 billion PennEast project begins in Luzerne County, PA, and extends across the Delaware River to Mercer County.

Pat Kornick, a spokesperson from PennEast, downplayed the significance of the letter from the Corps, saying it is a routine part of the permitting process. The information sought by the Corps will not change the company’s timetable, which aims to begin construction sometime in 2018.

In its letter, the Corps acknowledged the fluid nature of “these projects with continuing route changes’’ and pledged to continue working with the applicant to delineate wetlands and waters along the route. The permit requires the Corps to coordinate with various agencies concerning endangered species, wild and scenic rivers, historic preservation, and other issues.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said the tone of the Corps letter and information sought by the agency underscores that the EIS issued by FERC is flawed. “How can the EIS be considered final with all of PennEast missing information?’’ he asked.