Agencies Investigate SRL Pipeline
Drilling sludge spills into a wetland in the Pinelands on February 19, 2019 (photo from Eastern Inspection Service Co. report)
By Rhyan GrechSeptember 22, 2020
In the wake of New Jersey Natural Gas’s (NJNG) permit violations, and the suspension of drilling ordered by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), PPA and our partners in the fight against the Southern Reliability Link (SRL) pipeline have been busy. The permit is still suspended, but there is much more to the SRL construction story than the devastating events of June 19th.
Vigilant and courageous residents of Province Line Road in Upper Freehold Township documented and reported a series of construction accidents to the DEP in the months leading up to June 19th. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until a woman’s house was condemned that NJNG’s permit was finally suspended. Prior to that day, neighbors had suspected at least 3 other illegal spills of drilling sludge, or “inadvertent returns” (IR), along their road. The permit suspension letter identified the June 19th IR, as well as one on the 16th, and what was described by NJNG as “a few” sludge discharges in April 2020, also on Province Line Road. DEP required NJNG to submit a plan to evaluate what went wrong, how spills would be prevented in the future, and to ensure there would be no long-lasting environmental impacts. NJNG’s report was submitted on August 6th, and DEP, finding the plan insufficient, detailed several steps the company must take before the agency will consider lifting the suspension. This further delay, as well as DEP’s diligence in holding NJNG accountable, is a victory for opponents of this pipeline.
Meanwhile, the Pinelands Commission seemed sidelined during these events since this series of accidents took place outside of the Pinelands National Reserve. SRL construction in the Pinelands had ended in early 2019, and Commissioners were led to believe that construction occurred without incident. However, during a Pinelands Commission meeting on July 10th, the Executive Director revealed that she had been aware of “a number” of spills that had taken place more than a year earlier, in the Pinelands National Reserve. This was news to the public, and even worse, to the Commissioners themselves. As was brought to light over the next several days, there were, in fact, 6 IRs that took place in January and February 2019 on the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. More than 1,300 gallons of drilling fluid, chemicals and sludge spilled into forested and wetlands areas within the Pines, and NJNG suffered no repercussions.
The withholding of this information from the Board of Commissioners by the staff prevented the agency from investigating the accidents and responding in a way that could have altered or even possibly prevented the future damage to the environment and ultimately, a home. A few Commissioners have expressed indignation at being kept in the dark, but most of them have remained publicly silent on the mishandling of the situation. Two Commissioners have asked to staff to arrange a tour of the impacted sites on the Joint Base and will be looking into the matter further.
This issue is constantly developing, but our coalition of partners is agile and determined! PPA and Sierra Club’s appeals are still pending in the courts, and we are calling on the Commission to investigate, report to the public what happened and take appropriate action in light of the facts. We keep our NJNG webpage up to date with ways to contact all the relevant agencies if you would like your voice to be heard!