The PennEast pipeline fight is heading to Washington, D.C.
PennEast Pipeline Company LLC yesterday filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a permit to build a 118-mile natural-gas line from Pennsylvania across the Delaware River and through parts of Hunterdon County before ending in Mercer County.
The $1 billion project is one of about a dozen new pipelines proposed to deliver cheap natural gas from Pennsylvania and neighboring states to customers in New Jersey, a trend that has dramatically lowered heating bills for consumers and stabilized electricity prices in the region.
The project, however, is perhaps the most contentious of the various pipeline proposals, in part because its intended route traverses thousands of acres of open space and farmland preserved with taxpayer dollars.
“The proposed PennEast pipeline would undermine and destroy decades of dedicated work to preserve land in this critical region of New Jersey,’’ said Michele Beyers, executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
PennEast officials said the project will lower costs to consumers; it could have saved natural-gas customers nearly $900 million during the bitterly cold 2012-2013 winter, according to a study by a consultant hired by the project, while enhancing the reliability of the system.
The project has many backers from the business community since cheaper natural gas, a necessary commodity for many manufacturers, makes them more competitive with rivals in other states.“In New Jersey, natural gas drives our economy,’’ said Michele Sierkaka, president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.
Beyond lowering prices for consumers, the PennEast pipe will alleviate constraints in the existing pipeline system, according to Peter Terranova, chairman of the company’s board of managers.
Tom Gilbert, campaign director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, disagreed, saying the pipeline is not needed. He cited a report filed with FERC by Labyrinth Consulting that said the pipeline would result in a 53 percent surplus in natural gas over what the state would need. The surplus would be bound for other markets, including export overseas.
Pat Kornick, a spokeswoman for PennEast, disputed that assessment. “It is designed to serve local consumers; it is not an export project,’’ she said.
Among the project sponsors are companies affiliated with the four gas utilities in New Jersey: Public Service Electric & Gas, New Jersey Natural Gas, South Jersey Gas, and Elizabethtown Gas.
Other opponents feared the project would impact drinking water in New Jersey and neighboring states.
“The PennEast pipeline would be constructed through 31 of the state’s most important (C1) waterways and wetlands causing irrevocable damage,’’ said Jim Waltman, executive director of the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association.
If the project is approved by FERC, the company could use eminent domain to take property for their pipeline. “Landowners along the pipeline route could face losing their, homes, farms, and lands, some of which have been in their families for decades,’’ said Patty Cronheim of Hopewell Township Citizens Against the PennEast Pipeline.
The company has met with more than 700 landowner along the route, Terranova said, but it has not yet begun actual acquisition of land. “It’s premature to discuss what the ultimate outcome will be.’’
In addition to FERC, the project needs approval for permits from the Delaware River Basin Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.