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PennEast pipeline gets federal approval hours before government shutdown

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Hours before a deadlocked U.S. Congress failed to reach a deal to avoid shutting down the federal government, another brewing controversy once again came to the forefront – in a 4-1 vote, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the PennEast Pipeline project.

The 116-mile pipeline will pump natural gas into both Pennsylvania and New Jersey from the Marcellus Shale region in Pennsylvania, where gas is produced, mainly through fracking. The pipeline will stretch from Luzerne County through Carbon, Northampton and Bucks counties in Pennsylvania, then across the Delaware River into Hunterdon and Mercer Counties in New Jersey.

The approval, issued in the form of a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, outraged both politicians and environmental groups in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, who have been saying for years that the pipeline project will result in displaced homes in both states, and is harmful to local drinking water supplies.

The project has been in the planning stages by the PennEast Pipeline Co., a consortium of natural gas companies in both states, for the better part of the last decade. The consortium had been planning on starting construction on the project in 2018, pending FERC approval. 

In a public statement, FERC said "Those shippers will provide gas to a variety of end users, including local distribution customers, electric generators, producers and marketers and those shippers have determined, based on their assessment of the long-term needs of their particular customers and markets, that there is a market for the natural gas to be transported and the PennEast Project is the preferred means for delivering or receiving that gas."

Opponents of the project, such as the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, as well as New Jersey Senator Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-16th District) and U.S. representative Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) vowed to block the project. They also noted that it still must be approved by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which denied its application in June, citing environmental concerns. 

“[FERC’s decision] is just the beginning,” said Tom Gilbert, campaign director, NJ Conservation Foundation. “New Jersey doesn’t need or want this damaging pipeline, and has the power to stop it when it faces a more stringent state review.”

Watson Coleman, in a public statement, called FERC’s decision to approve the project “a slap in the face” to residents.  “The decision casts a dark shadow over the promise of clean water, green space and land rights for future generations. All over America, FERC is rubber-stamping projects with little regard for public interest, environmental impact or safety – today is no different.”

Bateman echoed Watson Coleman’s sentiment, saying in a written statement, “FERC’s reckless actions today in issuing a certificate to a pipeline that only serves private – not public – interests, was a major disservice to the citizens of New Jersey. We don’t want [the pipeline], we don’t need it and we won’t stop until PennEast is defeated. I call upon the NJDEP to uphold its responsibility to protect our state’s precious water resources from a pipeline that threatens to bring irreversible destruction to our state.”

Members of New Jersey Resources, the partnership overseeing the project, say that the construction of the pipeline will reduce energy costs and create jobs.

“The PennEast team has worked diligently to meet all FERC requirements, in order to provide low-cost natural gas to our state’s residents and businesses, reduce energy costs, create jobs and drive economic development in New Jersey,” said Stephen Westhoven, COO at New Jersey Resources, in a press release. “We are pleased this project has received FERC approval, and look forward to delivering the benefits of this locally sourced, abundant, low-cost natural gas to our state.” 

NJR's members include New Jersey Natural Gas, NJR Clean Energy Ventures, NJR Energy Services,NJR Midstream and NJR Home Services.

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Vince Calio

Vince Calio

Vince Calio covers health care and manufacturing for NJBIZ. You can contact him at vcalio@njbiz.com.

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