PennEast: Yet Another Dangerous and Unnecessary Pipeline
A consortium of energy companies known as PennEast has proposed building a 108 mile natural gas pipeline from Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, to Pennington, New Jersey, jeopardizing preserved land and Federally-listed endangered species including the bog turtle, the dwarf wedgemussel, and the Indiana bat. Along with 861 landowners of 1,094 properties, exactly 33 wetland areas and 60 bodies of water would be affected—including the sensitive Delaware River, under which the pipeline would pass. Though touted by PennEast as a way of connecting regional consumers with “clean affordable natural gas”, the PennEast pipeline is in fact a dangerous, environmentally senseless scheme whose sole purpose is short term profit.
PennEast is comprised of UGI Energy Services, Spectra Energy Partners, AGL Resources, South Jersey Industries, New Jersey Resources, and PSEG Power. Almost without exception, each company has a proven track record of environmental negligence and overall malfeasance.
First consider UGI. In February 2011, a natural gas main operated by the Valley Forge-based group exploded, leveling eight houses and claiming five lives. The 83-year-old main was made of cast iron, well known for its susceptibility to corrosion. While the group initially denied ignoring and improperly responding to warning signs that could have prevented the blast, they eventually agreed to pay a $386,000 fine to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, and to accelerate replacement of cast iron mains. Earlier, in May of 2004, UGI was sued by AGL Resources for some of the $55 million required to remove natural gas manufacturing byproducts—coal tars and other residues—from a site in Savannah, Georgia which UGI had once owned. Later, they were again sued by AGL over improper cleanup at a site in Augustine, Florida. New York-based Consolidated Edison also sued UGI for contributions to cleanup costs to a plant in Westchester County, New York. And the city of Bangor, Maine, also sued UGI to recover $50 million the city had spent to clean up tar deposits at a site along the Penobscot River.
Next we have Spectra Energy Partners. From July 2008 to August 2012, the Texas-based corporation delayed critical repairs to a swath of its Pennsylvania pipelines, resulting in a $95,000 fine by the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Later, on December 31st, 2013, a Spectra-Energy operated pressure valve in Searsmont, Maine failed, releasing approximately 70,000 cubic feet of natural gas, and sickening nearby residents.
South Jersey Industries’ record is similarly questionable. The group is currently seeking to build a 22-mile pipeline through the New Jersey Pinelands, a million-plus acre preserve of pristine natural land and forest. Though the proposed route clearly violates the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan, and could easily be rerouted along the Garden State Parkway right of way, SJI refuses to consider changes. It’s perhaps not a coincidence that at the time of the pipeline’s proposal, SJI Chief Operating Officer Michael J. Renna’s wife worked for Governor Chris Christie, a fierce proponent of the Pineland pipeline’s construction. You may remember COO’s Renna’s wife, Christina Renna, as one of the aids who reported to Bridget Kelly, the Christie cabinet member who was forced to resign in the wake of the ‘Bridgegate Scandal’, following the revelation of her “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email.
And finally we have PSEG Power. In November 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the State of New Jersey fined the company for their failure to comply with a 2002 Clean Air Act regulation requiring the installation of pollution controls at two of its New Jersey-based coal-fired power plants. PSEG was earlier sued by Morris Energy Group for “violat[ing] their MBR authority with the assistance of PSEG Power by exercising vertical market power by erecting barriers to entry in the PJM market.” PSEG was also sued by Rate Counsel, a division of the Public Advocate’s office, for over-collecting a market transition charge, resulting in the company’s having to pay $122 million to electric rate payers over the following two years.
Such are the constituents of PennEast. Are these paragons of environmental stewardship and financial probity to be trusted with our forests, farmlands, backyards, and communities?
The natural gas industry has been wildly successful in its efforts to portray itself as the cleaner, safer, alternative to coal and oil. Indeed, natural gas is now widely perceived as a ‘transition fuel’: a stepping stone from fossil fuels to renewables. But while natural gas emits about 50% less CO2 when burned, its total lifecycle emissions—extraction, distribution, et cetera—are only marginally better than coal’s. If the gas is extracted via hydraulic fracturing, (as much of PennEast’s cargo would be), the greenhouse gas footprint can be nearly 20% greater than coal’s, with as much as 7.9 percent of gas lost to flow-back, flaring, or seepage from loose pipe fittings.
Natural gas is also incredibly unsafe. Every nine days in the U.S., someone is injured by a natural gas leak or explosion. Since 1986, pipeline accidents have killed more than 500 people, injured over 4,000, and cost nearly seven billion dollars in property damage. Just a few weeks ago here in Pennsylvania, a dozen Washington County homes were evacuated due to an explosion at a natural gas metering station. Pipelines fail for many reasons: deterioration due to corrosion, shoddy welding, errant excavation operations, landslides, natural disasters, and sinkholes. No amount of preparation can ensure that the PennEast line won’t succumb to one or more of the above.
To mask these grim and unpalatable truths, PennEast focuses almost solely on the pipeline’s economic benefits. According to the consortium’s website, it would create 2,000 jobs, would heat 4.7 million homes, and would delivery 1 billion cubic feet of ‘affordable local natural gas’. But these jobs would be temporary, lasting only until the pipeline’s completion; and the gas would likely not be used to heat homes, but sold on the lucrative global export market. The notion that a 36 inch wide conduit filled with a highly volatile, toxic, and deadly substance—a substance which could explode at any moment—is somehow a boon to the communities through which it passes is absurd on its face.
Neither Pennsylvania nor New Jersey needs another natural gas pipeline. The $1 billion PennEast plans to spend would be better invested on renewables. Groups like Concerned Citizens against the Pipeline are committed to thwarting PennEast, educating landowners on their rights, and raising awareness about the realities of the natural gas industry. The rape and plunder of the earth, the decimation of natural habitat, and the senseless quest for short-term profit must be stopped. Construction on the PennEast line is slated to begin in 2017: Plenty of time to stop it in its tracks.