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Debate Swirls as Proposed Gas Pipeline Inches Forward

The debate has been intense: Towns along the proposed route have adopted resolutions opposing the pipeline.

Mon October 19, 2015 - Northeast Edition
Michael Catalini - ASSOCIATED PRESS

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) It could be a year before federal regulators decide whether to greenlight a proposed 100-mi. (161 km) natural gas pipeline from northeast Pennsylvania to central New Jersey, but already the company pushing the project and opponents are geared up for a fight.

Opponents say the pipeline poses possible environmental harm to the Delaware River Valley and would leave a scar across the region. The PennEast Pipeline Company argues the $1 billion project will bring jobs and a reliable energy source to the region.

The debate comes as the company awaits a reply from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on a permit to proceed with construction of the 118-mi. (190 km), 36-in. (91.4 cm) line. It’s a process that could take up to a year, according to the commission.

The Pipeline

The proposed 118-mi. pipeline would originate in Dallas Township in Luzerne County, Pa., travel through Carbon and Northampton counties and enter New Jersey at Holland Township, Hunterdon County, before ending in Hopewell Township, Mercer County.

The company is studying an area 400 ft. (122 m) wide along the route but the width where the pipeline would run is expected to be 50 ft. (15 m) wide and narrower through forests and wetlands. The $1 billion project would transmit 1 billion cu. ft. of natural gas per day, about enough gas to meet the daily needs of 4 million homes. PennEast said the project will bring about 2,500 local jobs during the construction phase.

The Players

The debate has been intense: Towns along the proposed route have adopted resolutions opposing the pipeline. State legislators of both parties and a member of the state’s congressional delegation have expressed concern — a resolution of opposition has been introduced in the Assembly and the Senate. And dozens of protesters, organized by environmental interest groups, recently snaked along a Trenton avenue calling on an investor in the project to revoke an application seeking federal approval.

PennEast is composed of six member companies. PSEG and Spectra Energy Partners were the latest partners to join and each have a 10 percent interest in PennEast, Kornick said. The other four companies, AGL Resources, NJR Pipeline, SJI Midstream and UGI Energy Services, have a 20 percent stake. UGI Energy Services is managing development and would operate the pipeline.

PennEast also has hired lobbying help at the federal level, paying a Washington-based firm $60,000 in the first two quarters of 2015, according to U.S. House of Representatives documents.

The Processs

PennEast began the process, which included a so-called pre-filing with regulators, about a year ago. A big development in the process came three months ago: a letter from New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to PennEast and FERC that urged the company to complete land-use and other environmental surveys.

The letter has become a focal point in the debate. For opponents, the 13-page letter is a sign of the hurdles facing the pipeline, said Clean Water Action New Jersey campaign director David Pringle. The company sees the letter as blueprint for determining the best route, according to PennEast spokeswoman Patricia Kornick.

As FERC weighs the company’s application, opponents of the pipeline are urging residents to comment on the application and apply to intervene.

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