PennEast Makes Clear It’s Digging In Despite Roadblocks to Controversial Pipeline

Tom Johnson | February 5, 2020 | Energy & Environment, Water
Opponent anticipates ‘multiyear battle’ as company amends its $1B project, withdraws a permit application and prepares for possible fall hearing in U.S. Supreme Court

Throughout its long fight to win approval for a 120-mile-long new natural gas pipeline through parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, PennEast Pipeline LLC has repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to be in it for the long haul.

The past several days underlined that steadfastness with a flurry of moves by the company, some of which may have bolstered its five-year quest to win approval for the controversial project, and others that guaranteed new delays in its efforts.

Late last week, PennEast filed amendments to its $1 billion project, proposing to build it in two phases. Initially, it would focus on 68 miles in Pennsylvania where it has won most of the approvals it needs to begin construction, targeting completion by November of next year. The other portion in New Jersey would be set to deliver gas in 2023, pending more complicated permit approvals in the state.

In a press release, Anthony Cox, chair of the company’s Board of Managers, said the action “again proves the PennEast partners are fully committed to the entire project and meeting the needs of its customers for safe, clean, reliable and affordable energy.’’

Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission sided with PennEast last week in seeking to overturn an adverse federal appeals court ruling that threatens to block the project from moving forward in New Jersey. The agency issued an order saying the decision could disrupt the natural gas sector’s ability to construct interstate pipelines.

Company wants to withdraw one application

In addition, PennEast asked the Delaware River Basin Commission to withdraw the company’s  applications for a water withdrawal permit for the original route of its project in Pennsylvania.

The project, widely opposed by local groups and environmentalists on both sides of the Delaware River, aims to deliver cheap natural gas to customers in both states. New Jersey’s Division of Rate Counsel, however, argues the proponents have failed to demonstrate a need for the project.

Finally, PennEast won an extension until March 4 to appeal the U.S. Court of Appeals decision saying the company could not exercise eminent domain over 40 state-owned lands. The extension could push a hearing by the Supreme Court, if it decides to review the case, until next fall, according to opponents.

“This is another multiyear battle,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “It’s been a major shakeup in the last couple of weeks. They are not going away. They are just reshuffling everything.’’

Maya van Rossum, Delaware Riverkeeper agreed, calling the maneuvering by the company likely only procedural steps. “DRBC must not be lulled into believing that it can approve the Pennsylvania portion of the project alone and consider the New Jersey portion later.’’