A new analysis questions whether a proposed pipeline through parts of the Pinelands National Reserve is needed to provide backup gas to New Jersey Natural Gas customers in the event of a major disruption.
The study undermines a key premise state regulators made in approving the 30-mile, $180 million Southern Reliability Link: It would provide a viable alternative to supply customers if an existing pipeline suffered problems.
The pipeline won approvals last year from the Pinelands Commission and the state Board of Public Utilities, but the project was remanded on procedural grounds to the agencies after opponents appealed the decision. The BPU has since approved the project once again, and the Pinelands Commission is expected to take it up later this year.
The project is one of more than a dozen pipeline projects that have been proposed or approved in New Jersey because of the vast and cheap supplies of natural gas being extracted in Pennsylvania and other states.
An analysis of the project by the consultant, Skipping Stone, found the proposed pipeline is unneeded and flawed. The consultant, commissioned by the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, found there are less costly and more effective alternatives to routing a pipeline through sections of the Pinelands.
“The SRL is a high-priced solution for a problem that does not really exist,’’ said Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the alliance, which had challenged the original approval of the project by the two state agencies. The Pinelands Commission should withhold approval and the BPU must reconsider its faulty approval, he said.
But Michael Kinney, a spokesman for New Jersey Natural Gas, disputed the claims, saying the BPU, after a year-long review, found the pipeline to be reasonably necessary for the service, convenience, and welfare of the public.
“To believe an outside organization like Skipping Stone, hired by opponents of the SRL, better understands our distribution system and the need for SRL defies common sense,’’ he said.
Essentially, the analysis by Skipping Stone found adequate backup supply already exists — from both the north and south — should there be a massive failure in the mainline of the Texas Eastern Transmission Company, the major source of supply for the gas utility.
The only significant gas-supply scenario that could occur could be solved by a less expensive fix far from the protected Pinelands area, according to the consultant. It estimated the cost of the alternative to be between $26 million and $28 million.
“This report completely abolishes any justification for the threats to the irreplaceable ecological and water resources of the Pinelands, or the huge price tag this pipeline would bring to ratepayers,’’ said Tom Gilbert, campaign director of ReThink Energy New Jersey.
The BPU could not be reached for comment. However, it called the pipeline “an example of there is a strategic need for alternative supply of natural gas in order to increase resiliency to meet demand under adverse conditions.’’