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Heated debate Pipeline issues pump passions

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A pipeline being installed.
A pipeline being installed. - ()

The saga continues.

The city of Lambertville issued a resolution last month asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reconsider its approval the PennEast Pipeline project.

The 120-mile, nearly $1 billion project is being pushed by five energy and utility companies to bring natural gas from northeastern Pennsylvania to an interconnection near Pennington owned by Transco.

The goal is to “help utilities deliver this affordable energy source to families and businesses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania,” according to PennEast.

Yet despite that lofty-stated aim, Christine Roy, a partner in Freehold law firm Rutter & Roy, said the official denunciation of the project from Lambertville pales in comparison to those from some of its residents. Roy and firm partner Michael Rutter represent Transco and other companies pushing pipelines.

“At some town hall meetings, people have shouted threats at me,” Roy said. “These meetings are usually held at night, and at one a man said he was going to take down my car’s license plate number and follow me home.”

Christine Roy, a partner at Rutter & Roy.
Christine Roy, a partner at Rutter & Roy. - ()

Attorneys for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association also recently filed a request with FERC for a rehearing in the case. There’s been no word yet from FERC on the association’s request nor any response to Lambertville.

At the heart of the dispute is this piece of geography: New Jersey lies in the companies’ preferred path for running pipelines from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Basin — a veritable Saudi Arabia of natural gas — into the New York energy market.

Meantime, natural gas last year provided more than half the electricity generated in New Jersey, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The state’s natural gas traditionally has come from the Gulf of Mexico region. But with the growth of natural gas production in Pennsylvania — thanks to fracking, which has spurred its own controversies — that state has become New Jersey’s main supplier.

The Garden State already has five interstate pipelines that are primary carriers of natural gas into New York and New England, with about half of the natural gas entering New Jersey moved on to other states.

Utilities and some other businesses say pipelines are needed to transport energy sources safely, quickly and relatively cheaply. Opponents say they pose serious risks to drinking water supplies, wildlife habitats and preserved open space and farmland.

Backed by FERC’s preliminary approval, PennEast has filed more than 150 condemnation lawsuits in federal courts aiming at seizing property — 115 in Hunterdon and Mercer counties, and another 50 in Pennsylvania, according to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

“As long as pipelines are built to the proper standards and qualify for the proper permits, they’re a safe way to transport gas. Pipelines are a lot better than transporting gas by barges, ships or trucks.”

Dennis Hart, executive director of the Chemistry Council of New Jersey
Dennis Hart, executive director of the Chemistry Council of New Jersey
Dennis Hart, executive director of the Chemistry Council of New Jersey

PennEast spokesperson Patricia Kornick said area families and businesses deserve to receive “the reduced energy costs, increased reliability and the many environmental benefits derived from the American-made energy that the PennEast Pipeline will transport.”

Added Kornick: “Abundant natural gas supplies in the region have created unprecedented cost savings and reliability opportunities for energy consumers. PennEast is in a unique position to be able to leverage those abundant and nearby natural gas supplies to benefit the region’s natural gas and electric consumers.”

Steve Westhoven, chief operating officer of Wall-based New Jersey Resources, said the energy provider supports the proposed pipeline for its projected cost savings.

“We are committed to minimizing the impact on the environment and the community,” Westhoven said. “FERC affirmed that PennEast … can be constructed with minimal impact to the environment.”

Dennis Hart, executive director of the Chemistry Council of New Jersey in Trenton, said he’s worried businesses and consumers will lose out if the pipeline isn’t completed.

Steve Westhoven, chief operating officer, New Jersey Resources.
Steve Westhoven, chief operating officer, New Jersey Resources.

“The demand for natural gas is growing, both for home heating and for use by utilities,” Hart said. “We’re concerned that New Jersey isn’t taking advantage of the natural gas revolution that has led to lower energy prices in states like Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia and Louisiana.”

Hart, who spent much of his career at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said safeguards are in place to minimize the environmental impact from the pipeline.

“As long as pipelines are built to the proper standards and qualify for the proper permits, they’re a safe way to transport gas,” he said. “Pipelines are a lot better than transporting gas by barges, ships or trucks.”

Some environmentalists are pinning their hopes on Gov. Phil Murphy, who has positioned himself as a champion of renewable energy, though Murphy has been relatively quiet on the subject of the pipeline.

“The governor is still relatively new, so we haven’t directly spoken with him about this issue yet,” Hart said. “I know he has expressed concerns about keeping businesses in New Jersey, and lower energy costs are part of that effort. In time we’ll talk to him about pipelines in the overall context of New Jersey and manufacturing companies.”

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