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Setting the record straight on pipeline rights of way LETTER TO THE EDITOR

To the editor:

Federal regulators recently approved the PennEast Pipeline to deliver clean, reliable and affordable natural gas to millions of families and businesses across the region. That approval — after more than three years of regulatory and scientific reviews — found PennEast Pipeline is in the public need and benefit, and can be constructed and operational with minimal environmental impacts.

Three regulators to date have found its construction and operation are safe for air, land and water.  With approximately 90 percent of the gas already purchased by local gas utility and power generators, every New Jersey resident and business stands to benefit.

Unfortunately, a recent NJBIZ story (NJBIZ, Jan. 29, Page 2) left out important context about the significant economic benefits created by the project, instead focusing on sensationalized misinformation from an attorney paid to foment criticism.

The recent cold snap from a few weeks ago again shows us why low-cost and reliable natural gas is needed. Because of existing natural gas pipeline constraints and demand outpacing supply in New Jersey, the bitter cold in the first week of January resulted in over $300 million in higher cost natural gas supplies. In turn, it drove up costs, including for large energy users, industrial and power generators — and that was just during a 10-day period.

We understand there are legitimate concerns from landowners, which we have worked hard to address and alleviate over the last three years.  In many cases, this input has provided important feedback that has improved the pipeline route and reduced impacts. However, it is also important to correct the many inaccuracies cited in the story.

First, once a pipeline is built, the land is restored to original condition.  The final operational footprint of the two-state route will be just one-square mile – with the pipeline safely placed underground.

Second, landowners with a pipeline easement neither have their land “taken” nor are they displaced. In fact, they retain ownership of their property, including the generally small portion of land needed, and are fairly compensated for the permanent easement as well as temporary impacts of construction. For example, farmers can still farm as they did previously, and preserved lands remain as open space. Typically, the only limit placed on the right of way is to avoid permanent structures or trees.

One of the preliminary reasons why access to property is needed is to collect field survey data that ensure minimal impacts on the environment, as required by federal regulators. To date, nearly 75 percent of landowners across the entire route have provided survey access. In addition, to minimize tree clearing and other impacts, nearly half of the route in New Jersey was aligned with existing rights-of-way such as overhead power lines.

Third, while condemnation is an option to ensure safe and environmentally friendly construction, it is always a last resort because it’s an emotional, burdensome and costly legal process for all involved. We have advised landowners it is in their best interest to reach an agreement now, rather than relying on a third-party court determination of the value of their property, which is likely to be lower than the current premium offers from PennEast.

Finally, five independent real estate studies available on the PennEast website prove that underground natural gas pipelines do not adversely affect the values of the homes and properties near the pipeline.

Natural gas pipelines deliver reliable, around-the-clock energy. The underground networks literally fuel our economy, cross our roads, neighborhoods and even our front lawns. Nearly 75 percent of New Jersey households rely on natural gas service, and almost 60 percent of New Jersey’s electric generation portfolio now is driven by clean natural gas.

Because natural gas has continued to replace coal for making electricity, carbon emissions in New Jersey are far below levels from 20 years ago. In short, environmental protection and economic growth can be achieved by accessing this reliable energy source.

PennEast will lower electric and gas bills, create thousands of jobs and deliver cleaner air by accessing more abundant, reliable, clean American energy. That is welcome news for residents, New Jersey businesses and the state’s long term economic prospects.

Pamela Witmer

Vice President of Government Relations

UGI Energy Services

Wyomissing, Pa.

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