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Counting the Costs of Pipeline Projects for Delaware River Basin

Analysis finds PennEast and Mariner East 2 pipelines will significantly increase pollution, degrade natural habitat and rack up big social costs

Gas pipeline
Credit: NJTV News

A new study suggests the expansion of the natural gas infrastructure in the Delaware River Basin is resulting in significant disruption and stresses to the environment and communities within the region.

The analysis, conducted by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, which is focused on two contested pipeline projects in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, found the 120-mile PennEast pipeline and the Mariner East 2 pipeline across the width of the latter state will add to the environmental degradation, habitat fragmentation and pollution throughout the DRB.

“The results of the study suggest that the present value of lifetime environmental and social costs associated with the proposed PennEast pipeline and existing Mariner East 2 pipelines in the DRB range from approximately $758 million to $2.4 billion,’’ according to the report.

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Those costs include losses associated with ecosystem disruptions, greenhouse-gas emissions and loss of preserved land. One-quarter of the land where the PennEast pipeline is proposed to pass through is protected land or under conservation easements, the analysis found.

Other costs could not be quantified, but involve water quality degradation, loss of property value, and increased treatment of surface water due to additional sedimentation in streams and rivers.

Costs that ‘should not be overlooked’

“Such costs should not be overlooked when making decisions about pipeline development in the region,’’ the report said.

The DRB spans parts of four states — New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware — and provides drinking water to more than 15 million people. Since 2016, at least eight major pipelines have been proposed in the basin, encompassing 322 miles. Between 2011 and 2018, pipeline capacity in New Jersey increased 52 percent even as some studies concluded the added capacity is unnecessary.

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The analysis focused on the PennEast pipeline, which still requires crucial permits from state agencies as well as the Delaware River Basin Commission, and the existing and under-construction Mariner East 2 project. Both projects feature multiple stream crossings, with the former crossing 135 waterways and the latter, 72.

The study found the pipelines would disrupt about 2,200 acres of land in the DRB for pipeline construction and long-term operation. These costs were estimated to result in a present-value loss of “ecosystem service” — such as in climate regulation and water purification — that could cost about $11 million for Mariner and $43 million for PennEast.

Risks include spillage of drilling fluid

As of this past February, there were about 240 spills of drilling fluid to land and water along the Mariner East 2 route. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection had issued 94 notices of permit violations.

“The risks that we are pointing to are very compelling,’’ said Tom Gilbert, campaign director for energy for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “It shows that things can and do go horribly wrong.’’

The total cost of greenhouse-gas emissions for construction and operation of the PennEast pipeline, using the average social cost of carbon, would range from $470 million to $1.4 billion over the life of the pipeline, according to the report.

The costs of unhealthy greenhouse-gas emissions associated with one pump station at a Marcus Hook facility for Mariner would cost from $260 million to $800 million, according to the analysis by the Cadmus Group LLC, an independent consultancy based in Massachusetts.

“No one has ever put all these numbers in one place, and doing so tells a powerful story of the magnitude of harm our region faces from pipelines,’’ Gilbert said.

The analysis also found numerous federal and state endangered and threatened species could be negatively impacted by pipeline construction and loss of habitat. Six federally listed species and 25 state listed species may be found along PennEast’s pipeline route, including the timber rattlesnake, American kestrel, bobcat and southern gray tree frog.

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