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Controversial gas pipeline project for Hunterdon takes step forward

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Pending approval of a final implementation plan, a controversial interstate energy expansion project got the green light from state and federal regulatory officials to construct nearly 7 miles of natural gas pipeline through central New Jersey.

The $341 million Northeast Supply Link project is designed to expand the Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Co.'s existing underground pipeline infrastructure to transport natural gas produced by Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale fields to northeastern markets. The project is expected to deliver gas to Princeton and New York by November 2013, with construction scheduled to begin this spring, according to a spokeswoman for the project's owner, Tulsa-based natural gas transporter Williams Partners LP.

According to the firm's website, the Transco gas pipeline already extends 25 miles between Roseland and Rutherford, and the expansion project will install a new 6.7-mile loop of pipes 42 inches in diameter through Hunterdon County.

But that proposed Stanton loop has met fierce criticism from the state's environmental groups since Williams first filed an application for the project in December with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which approved it last Friday.

"How many gas pipeline expansion projects do we need across the state as the gas drillers are announcing they are decreasing production?" Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a statement. "These projects are all speculative and driven by the supply side. Pennsylvania gets the money, New York gets the gas and we get the pipe."

The less contentious piece of the project — which involves constructing a new 25,000-horsepower compressor facility in Essex County — is slated to begin this month, as the proposed site was unscathed by Hurricane Sandy, the spokeswoman said.

Frank Ferazzi, vice president and general manager of Williams Partners' gas pipeline business, said in a statement the company "appreciates the FERC's thorough review of this project, and we look forward to providing our customers with additional access to clean energy."

As a whole, the Transco system currently includes 10,200 miles of pipes, which transport natural gas to markets throughout the Northeast and Southeast. The expansion will increase the current system's daily capacity by 3 percent.

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