PennEast Pipeline LLC is seeking an expedited order from a federal agency to fast track approval of its 120-mile project, arguing it is needed to meet obligations to ship natural gas to major energy markets.
In a letter sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this past Thursday, the company is asking the agency to issue certificates and other authorizations to allow it to gain access to properties along its route in New Jersey and Pennsylvania where owners have blocked access.
As a result, New Jersey environmental officials have refused to begin reviewing permits the company is seeking, saying it needs much more information before the developer’s application is complete. The project also has stalled at FERC, which has lacked a quorum to vote since the beginning of the year.
The $1 billion project is proposed to begin in Luzerne County, PA, cross under the Delaware River into Hunterdon County, before ending in Mercer County. It has met stiff opposition from communities and environmental organizations on both sides of the river.
In its letter, Dat Tran, chairman of PennEast’ board of managers, said the company has provided FERC with all of the information necessary for the commission to issue a final decision.
“Prompt issuance of an order granting certificate authorizations for the project is critically important to satisfy the timing expectations of these shippers and to provide timely access to new incremental gas supplies for the major Northeastern energy markets that PennEast is designed to serve,’’ the letter noted.
Growing demand in Northeast
In addition, the developer argued the pipeline will provide additional capacity to meet the growing demand for natural gas in the Northeast, increasing the reliability of the existing pipeline grid. Four new natural-gas power plants are expected to be operational in New Jersey by next year.
Opponents of the project, including the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel and others, disputed the new supplies of gas are needed to meet demand in the state, which has witnessed more than a dozen new pipeline projects proposed in recent years.
They vowed to fight PennEast’s attempts to win quick approval from the federal commission.
“This is not the time to rush a decision about PennEast,’’ said Tom Gilbert, campaign director for ReThink Energy NJ, a coalition of groups opposed to the project. “The new commissioners should review the record with an eye toward addressing the many outstanding questions about this troubled project that would need to seize a remarkable number of properties through eminent domain.’’
The New Jersey Sierra Club sent its own letter to FERC, calling on it to deny the company’s request for an expedited review. “The pipeline would damage important waterways, including the Delaware River,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the club.
If the federal agency does grant the company’s request, the dispute will shift most likely to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, where the developer needs to secure water permits, but must gain access to portions of the route where they have been denied in order to comply with the state’s need for more detailed information.