February 14, 2018

PennEast Pipeline Gains FERC Approval, Faces Local Battles

By Donald Gilpin

More than three years after its pipeline project was first announced, PennEast last month received Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approval to build the 120-mile pipeline in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The 120-mile pipeline would bring natural gas from Luzerne County in northeastern Pennsylvania across the Delaware River near Riegelsville, Pennsylvania, across Hunterdon County to the edge of Mercer County near Pennington. 

With approvals still needed from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) and others, and widespread opposition from environmental groups, municipalities, property owners and other individuals, as well as New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, the PennEast Pipeline project is likely to remain a battleground for many months, perhaps years to come.

Taking the first step towards litigation, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) filed a rehearing request with FERC on January 24, asking the agency to reconsider its approval. “From a lack of need to its devastating impacts on the environment, to the demonstrated false, misleading, and missing information provided by the PennEast companies to FERC, there is no way to support approval of this project,” said Delaware Riverkeeper leader Maya van Rossum.

She continued, in a statement issued last month, “Our grounds for legal challenge are strong and we will pursue them. We also have many other battle fronts, including preventing permits from the state of New Jersey, defeating permits issued by Pennsylvania, and preventing approval by the Delaware River Basin Commission. We will fight on and we will win.”

Citing the vast natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale of northeastern Pennsylvania, PennEast argues that the pipeline would significantly lower energy prices and provide a host of additional benefits for New Jersey residents.

“Approval of the PennEast Pipeline is a major victory for New Jersey and Pennslvania families and businesses,” said Anthony Cox, chair of the PennEast Pipeline Company LLC Board of Managers. “They will reap the benefits of accessing one of the most affordable and abundant supplies of natural gas in all of North America. PennEast will lower gas and electricity costs, increase reliability, improve air quality, and make the region more competitive for jobs in the coming decades.”

Attorney Timothy Duggan, chair of Stark & Stark’s Eminent Domain Appeal Group, who represents individuals and businesses in challenging eminent domain proceedings, pointed out that gaining FERC approval empowers PennEast to file complaints using eminent domain to access properties for surveys and tests; to take easements rights to construct the pipeline; and to seek court determination of just compensation for easements or land.

Duggan, who represents a number of property owners, noted, however, “PennEast has a long way to go to get approvals in New Jersey.” Commenting on Murphy’s opposition to the pipeline, Duggan said, “I hope that emboldens NJDEP to give the PennEast application strict scrutiny. They’ll be fair, but they’ll insist that PennEast cross every ’t’ and dot every ‘i.’”

Duggan went on to state that despite the contrary position taken by PennEast and FERC, “Studies have shown that there is not a significant need for more natural gas in New Jersey.” He added that appropriate compensation for land or easements taken by PennEast is another bone of contention. “Offers for compensation are not even close to being realistic, according to my clients. With a private company using the government’s power to take property, it’s not surprising that property owners object.”

Duggan urged local residents to stay informed and get involved, even if the pipeline is not slated to pass through their property “There has been land taken for pipelines in Princeton in the past,” he said. “all property owners should take an interest in this issue and be active. Stay involved.”

Earlier this month the NJDEP for the third time rejected the PennEast application, stating that it was missing information, but stipulated that PennEast could reapply.

Since the PennEast pipeline was first announced, several groups have organized to fight the pipeline. As these groups challenge the issuance of the FERC certificate and ask for a rehearing in hopes that FERC will overturn their decision, Penn East continues to move forward with eminent domain complaints against property owners. Penn East also intends to reapply for approval for additional permits.

“The pipeline will be cutting through communities, preserved open space, and farmland. The PennEast Pipeline would threaten the entire valley including 91 acres of wetlands and over 44 miles of forest, over 1,600 acres total,” the Sierra Club of New Jersey warned earlier this week in urging area residents to attend a meeting to “stand up and fight PennEast.”