September 29, 2021

Pipeline Project Canceled by PennEast

By Anne Levin

After more than 10 years of planning and facing opposition from environmentalists across the region, PennEast has opted to pull the plug on its proposed 116-mile natural gas pipeline.

The companies that had been advancing the project, which would have spanned areas of Pennsylvania and New Jersey including Mercer and Hunterdon counties, issued a statement on Monday announcing that the project had been canceled.

“PennEast has not received certain permits, including a water quality certification and other wetlands permits under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act for the New Jersey portion of the project,” reads the statement. “Therefore, the PennEast partners, following extensive evaluation and discussion, recently determined further development of the project no longer is supported.”

This was welcome news to local environmentalists, including Jim Waltman, executive director of The Watershed Institute in Pennington.

“This is a huge victory,” he said in a press release. “Today, water, the environment, and people spoke louder than fossil fuels. We congratulate and thank the many local, state, and federal officials of both parties and thousands of residents for their determined opposition to this unnecessary and destructive proposal.”

The pipeline would have required condemnation of 42 parcels owned or controlled by the state of New Jersey. Earlier this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that PennEast Pipeline Company could sue New Jersey to take the land.

“The proposed pipeline would have ripped through dozens of our state’s most pristine streams and bulldozed through more than 4,300 acres of farmland and open space that has been ostensibly preserved in perpetuity,” said Waltman.

Maya van Rossum, the Delaware riverkeeper, leader of the Delaware

Riverkeeper Network, said, “We knew we would get here eventually. It was just a matter of time.”

Delaware Riverkeeper Network, other environmental organizations, and concerned individuals have been partnering on efforts to vigorously oppose the project. “Since the project was announced, People Against the Pipeline community groups have been popping up all along the over 100-mile-long line, all coordinating and working together,” van Rossum said in a press release. “We have advocated, litigated, conducted critical scientific groundtruthing, and been clear throughout that we would accept nothing short of cancellation.”

The Watershed Institute was among the organizations involved. “From the beginning, it was clear to us that this PennEast proposal was in severe conflict with the state’s strong environmental protections,” Waltman said. “As we and others have urged, through two administrations, the state of New Jersey has consistently held PennEast to the Garden State’s strict environmental laws.”

The natural gas pipeline would have originated in northeastern Pennsylvania. The underground line would have run through Hunterdon County and into Mercer County. According to studies done when the project was first proposed, it would have delivered approximately 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day to markets in eastern Pennsylvania, southeastern Pennsylvania, and New Jersey with natural gas produced from Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.

Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman welcomed the news, but said there is still work to be done. “I will continue to commit to this fight for comprehensive oversight by FERC [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission],” she said. “We must have accountability when it comes to proposed projects and take a cumulative approach of the need and the environmental impact when pipelines are put forth into consideration. Make no mistake, though, today is a great win.”

“The death of the PennEast pipeline is a long time coming,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, adding that it wouldn’t have been possible “without the support of the Murphy administration and the NJDEP [New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection] standing up to the environmental bullying from PennEast.”

He added, “PennEast spent the last seven years bullying New Jersey — from landowners to state government — and this is a testament that you can’t bulldoze the public and the environment.”

Waltman compared the defeat of the proposal to another effort that blocked construction of a segment of Interstate 95 several decades ago. “Fifty years ago, The Watershed Institute and the residents of this region fought an ill-advised segment of I-95 that would have harmed this area’s water and environment — in 1973, that segment of the highway became one of only a small number that was eventually de-authorized,” he said “The defeat of the PennEast Pipeline stands on a par with that victory.”