A huge petrochemical company is urging a federal agency to delay a decision on a 16-mile natural gas pipeline through northern New Jersey, saying the project poses significant environmental risks, including the "potentially catastrophic release of benzene into public waters."
With the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission scheduled to issue its final environmental impact statement as soon as tomorrow, an emergency motion by Chevron throws a possible eleventh-hour roadblock into Spectra Energy's bid to build a pipeline from Staten Island to Jersey City and then into New York City.
The pipeline project, one of a spate of natural gas pipeline expansions spurred by the discovery of huge deposits of the fossil fuel in Pennsylvania and New York, has been opposed by residents, particularly in Jersey City, who say it poses a risk to tens of thousands of people, in part from the potential of a natural gas explosion.
Chevron is embroiled in the case because the proposed pipeline route crosses a Texaco property in Bayonne, a site that is undergoing cleanup for hazardous waste contamination. Chevron and Texaco merged in 2001.
"The route across the Chevron site proposed by Spectra and described in the draft environmental impact state carries substantial risks, including the risk of benzene --classified by the federal Environmental Protection Agency as a known human carcinogen -- into the busy public waters of the waterway known as the Kill Van Kull," the company said in a filing.
In cleaning up contamination of petrochemicals on the site, Chevron has built an underground wall to contain massive amounts of benzene from flowing into groundwater and elsewhere.
Both parties have been meeting since November 2011, according to the filing, but Chevron said it has been unable to agree on a route that is "environmentally safe."
The project, by the Houston-based company, would run from Staten Island to Bayonne and into downtown Jersey City, before crossing underneath the Hudson River to connect with Manhattan.
The company claims the project is designed to meet New Jersey's and New York's future clean energy needs by expanding the Texas Eastern Transmission and Algonquin Gas Transmission pipeline. It is designed to bring 800 million cubic feet of natural gas each day to the two states, according to the project website.
In theory, the project aligns with the goals of New Jersey's new Energy Master Plan, which calls for expanding the natural gas pipeline infrastructure in New Jersey to take advantage of fuel deposits in Marcellus Shale formations.
Marylee Hanley, a spokesman for Spectra Energy, said there is no basis for granting the emergency motion. "We've adequately addressed these concerns," she said, calling the draft environmental impact statement a viable and safe route for the pipeline project.
Previously, the company said the proposed route was chosen because of its "constructability" and the fact that it does not cross residential property along 100 percent of its 16 miles.
William Schulte, an attorney representing a few environmental groups, as well as a local community organization, said he suspects Chevron wants to clean up the property so it can be sold for redevelopment, a prospect that likely will become more difficult should a natural gas line be traversing it.
Chevron seemed to indicate that in its filing, saying the proposed crossing could negatively impact future residential units to be located within 20 feet of it. Besides the release of concentrated benzene into the Kill Van Kull, the company also said the project could negatively impact cleanup of uncontaminated sites at the location. That concern was echoed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in its own filing, urging the federal agency to closely review the issues raised by Chevron, relating to the integrity of the cleanup plan.