PennEast Pipeline: Round 2 with the DRBC

The PennEast Pipeline Company has once again placed its project before the Delaware River Basin Commission for the commission's approval.

If all had gone according to plan, the PennEast Pipeline might have been close to completion, or at least under construction by now. But the 116-mile pipeline that would ship Marcellus Shale gas from northeast Pennsylvania to Transco’s pipeline interconnection near Pennington, Mercer County, N.J., has met with considerable opposition as it attempts to find its way through New Jersey.

This is the project's second attempt to win the commission's approval. Its initial application was withdrawn on Jan. 30, 2020, as the company placed an amended version before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The new version splits the project into two phases with a plan to work on Phase 1 -- on the Pennsylvania side -- first. This version doesn't have a crossing of the Delaware River as part of its plan, but of course, the project is still within the Delaware River watershed.

This is an excerpt of the letter Steve Tambini, executive director of the DRBC, wrote on Feb. 5, 2020, in response to the project's Jan. 20 letter:

"...for each natural gas transmission project proposed to traverse the Delaware River Basin, DRBC’s practice is to conduct a preliminary analysis to determine whether Commission review is required.

"In light of the above, the PennEast Pipeline Company is hereby directed within 30 days of the date of this letter to submit to the Commission such information about its proposed Phase 1 project as is needed to enable the Commission to determine whether or not Phase 1 is subject to the Commission’s review."

Apparently that review ascertained that the new amended project still requires DRBC review.

Another letter, again from Tambini, March 30, 2020:

"... the Delaware River Basin Commission staff have examined recent submissions by the PennEast Pipeline Company, LLC (“PennEast”) to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and on the basis of these submissions, have determined that the PennEast Natural Gas Transmission Pipeline Phase 1 Project (“Phase 1”) is subject to review under Section 3.8 of the Delaware River Basin Compact."

Of course, one of the things that's interesting about the DRBC's stance is that the commission members are the governors of the four states in the watershed: Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Delaware Governor John Carney. Three of those states are not facilitating new fracked gas projects or pipelines. The exception? Pennsylvania, though Governor Wolf has stated his opposition to fracking in the watershed.

The first step in the official review process is that the DRBC sends out a Notice of Applications Received. Here are some details about the pipeline from the notice on June 3, 2020:

"This portion includes the construction of approximately 53.3 miles of new 36-inch diameter natural gas transmission pipeline (“Mainline”) and 0.5 miles of 4-inch diameter natural gas pipeline (“Blue Mountain Lateral”); and new aboveground facilities including a natural gas compressor station (“the Kidder Compressor Station”), pipeline interconnects and mainline valves. These proposed facilities are located in multiple municipalities in Luzerne, Carbon, Monroe and Northampton Counties, Pennsylvania within the drainage area of the portion of the non-tidal mainstem Delaware River known as the “Lower Delaware,” which the Commission has classified as Special Protection Waters. Phase 2 of the project, which is not a part of the present application, would extend the proposed pipeline across the Delaware River into Mercer County, NJ at an undetermined future date."

You can find a summary of the interactions between the DRBC and the project, as well as the project application here

Jurisdictional questions have beset the project, with two states' approval required as well as the blessing of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. So far, pipeline projects like this are usually smiled on at the federal level. Pennsylvania has not been hostile -- after all, it's Pennsylvania gas that's being piped out of the state. But New Jersey has not been enthusiastic -- the project has been blocked from using eminent domain to seize private property or to use state lands.

Opposition to the pipeline has been energetic, and environmental activists like the Sierra Club of New Jersey, Environment New Jersey and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, have been asking that the DRBC take up the proposal, especially in light of the DRBC's practice of holding public hearings for its applications, a more transparent review process than either states' or FERC.

But take it up only in order to reject it.

Back in December, a lengthy petition that lists all the objections to the pipeline was signed by 50-plus environmental organizations. You can review them and their objections here:

About Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire has been a journalist for 30 years in New York and Connecticut. She started in weekly newspapers and moved to full-time work in dailies 25 years ago. She knows about the tectonic changes in journalism firsthand, having been part of what was euphemistically called a "reduction in force" six years ago. Now she's working to find new ways to "do" the news as an independent online publisher of news about the Delaware River, its watershed and its people.

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