New Jersey Natural Gas’ Proposed Pipeline
New Jersey Natural Gas proposes to build the so-called “Southern Reliability Link” (SRL), a 30”, 722 psi natural gas transmission line, running from Chesterfield to Manchester, through the Pinelands Preservation Area, including along stretch through the Lakehurst section of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB MDL). Most or all of the pipeline within the Pinelands would lie within the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer. Even though the legal challenges are still pending, NJNG decided to go ahead and build the section in the Pinelands starting in December 2018.
The Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) permits development within Federal and Military Area of the Pinelands, including on JB MDL property and roads running through this area, only if it is “associated with the function of” the Base and is located only in the Pinelands’ “Protection Area” wherever feasible, not in the Preservation Area. The SRL does not meet either of these restrictions, as it would merely traverse the Base through the Preservation Area.
PPA believes the Pinelands Commission approved this pipeline for political reasons and in direct violation of the CMP. This Commission approval makes a mockery of the Pinelands protection rules and exposes the aquifer and people to risks which the Commission and other state agencies have simply refused to acknowledge or resolve.
Appeals of Pinelands Approvals: PPA, joined by Bordentown, Sierra Club and Environment New Jersey, is challenging the Pinelands Commission and other approvals in the appeals court, based on substantive and procedural defects. If the court agrees with us, it is possible the project will be defeated or that it will be sent back to the Pinelands Commission for a new review. If that happens, then we will reach out to the public to voice its opposition to this project to Governor Murphy and the Pinelands Commission.
Burlington County Road Permits: In an attempt to complete as much construction as possible before the cases are litigated, NJNG began construction in Ocean County in December of 2018. In July, Burlington County issued the permit for construction to begin. This places people and the environment at risk for a project that is likely to be stopped once the cases are decided!
PPA filed a lawsuit challenging the Burlington County Freeholders’ approval of future road closures for the construction of the NJNG pipeline. On December 12, 2018 the Freeholder board, which was then under Republican control, voted 3-2 authorizing the closure of two county highways for pipeline construction. Two of the Freeholders who voted in favor, Kate Gibbs and Latham Tiver, are employed by the building trades union, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825, that has publicly supported the project and will benefit financially from the project. Gibbs is their director of business development and Tiver is a business representative for the union. Burlington County moved to dismiss the lawsuit but a judge ruled on May 13, 2019 that this case can proceed.
The judge upheld the core claim of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance that we have correctly alleged a conflict of interest that if proven would invalidate the vote of Gibbs and Tiver on December 12th. Read the Burlington County Times article.
Just days before the news broke about the County issuing the permit to NJNG, twenty-two organizations including the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, submitted a letter to the Burlington County Freeholders calling on them to deny any permit for construction of the New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG) Southern Reliability Link (SRL) Pipeline on its county roads. The Freeholders not only ignored the letter, but allowed the County Engineer to issue the permit without a Freeholder Board vote, completely side-stepping the issue. Read the letter below.
How You Can Help
Call Governor Phil Murphy at 609-292-6000 and urge him to direct the Board of Public Utilities to halt construction of the SRL in Burlington County until the lawsuits have been resolved! Download and share this Take Action Flyer.
The message for Governor Murphy:
“The Southern Reliability Link pipeline is a risk to residents’ safety, ratepayers’ money and the Pinelands. The pipeline is both completely unnecessary and is likely to be stopped by the courts once they decide any of several pending appeals. These lawsuits have merit. Do not give in to NJNG’s attempt to make the pipeline a done deal. Do not let NJNG deny the public its day in court on this terrible development. Please urge the BPU to halt construction and allow the courts to hear and decide these cases!”
Reporting Construction Issues
If you see something, say something! NJNG received a permit from the Department of Environmental Protection so if you notice any potential violations where construction is happening, be sure to report it! This could include water contamination, sinkholes, discharge into streams or wetlands, etc. Note the exact location (take a picture if possible), date and time, and call 1-877-WARN DEP. They will give you a case number so you can follow up. Then, let us know! PPA is compiling information about construction issues to strengthen our case against the pipeline.
Issue Location Map*:
NJNG’s proposed “Southern Reliability Link” (SRL) is a 30”, 722 psi natural gas transmission line that would run from Chesterfield Township to Manchester Township, through the statutory Preservation Area of the Pinelands, including through the Lakehurst section of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB MDL). The CMP permits development within the Base only if it is “associated with the function” of that installation, and new development must be located only in the statutory Protection Area wherever feasible, not in the Preservation Area as it is proposed to do. See N.J.A.C. 7:50-5.29(a). The purpose of this rule is to ensure that development within the Base, which lies entirely in the Pinelands Preservation, is limited to things the Base needs in order to fulfill its military mission.
The SRL, however, would merely traverse the Base. At no point would it connect to the Base’s own pipes or facilities. The Commission justified its approval on the ground that the Lakehurst section of the Base is served by NJNG as one of the utility’s hundreds of thousands of customers, so any construction that serves those customers is necessarily “associated with the function” of the Base. In fact, JB MDL uses a tiny fraction of NJNG’s supply, amounting to less than one half of one percent of the stated capacity of the proposed new pipeline. By this reasoning, a freeway could be built across the Base and justified on the ground that some Base employees would use it to get to work. Such an indirect relationship to the Base cannot reasonably be treated as showing this massive development is “associated with the function of the” Base if this rule is to retain any meaning whatsoever.
In 2012, moreover, the Air Force completed an Installation Development Plan for the next 25 years (until 2037), which found that the natural gas systems across the Base are “considered adequate” and that “supply capacity is not considered an issue for future growth.” NJNG is simply using JB MDL and the Pinelands as a utility corridor, exactly the kind of development the CMP is designed to prevent.
The record shows that NJNG, BPU and the Commission all failed to conduct or require any reliability analysis showing that SRL is needed to provide reliable service, while PPA presented expert reports showing that it clearly is not. The relevant supplies to NJNG’s system are already highly redundant, and at no point has NJNG suffered a major disruption that would warrant a new transmission line through the Pinelands Preservation Area. BPU’s premise in approving SRL was that a single point of failure “upstream” of NJNG’s connection to its TETCO supply line wrongly assumed the TETCO supply ran in only one direction (so a single failure would shut it down), while in truth that interstate line is bidirectional. Even in the event of a failure at any point along TETCO mainline, NJNG would still receive 96-100% of its contracted supplies. These are the kinds of factual problems that have been ignored or obscured throughout the drive to approve SRL, and have never been objectively and rationally evaluated by any state agency.
In a similar vein, the Pinelands Commission relied on representations about a 2017 “tabletop exercise” conducted by the BPU and utility companies – an “exercise” that was never given to the Commissioners or the public, has never been included in the Commission’s record of decision, and, when later produced (in redacted form) in response to PPA’s OPRA request, contains nothing to justify the Commission’s reliance on it. There is no quantitative evidence in the report that indicates a need for the SRL.
The Commission also ducked critical environmental risks. The Pinelands Protection Act designates the Preservation Area as “especially vulnerable to the environmental degradation of surface and ground waters” and states that “the degradation of such waters would result in a severe adverse impact upon the entire pinelands area.” NJSA 13:18-A2. As such, development within this area must be tailored to avoid any degradation to the Pinelands waters – a standard this development does not meet. The proposed route through JB MDL includes two Superfund sites and an area of perfluorinated compound (PFC) contamination of unknown extent. Construction within these areas may disrupt remediation processes in the Superfund sites and could pose a health risk. Both perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) have been documented at levels that are orders of magnitude higher than advisory recommendations, in areas where the pipeline would run. PFCs are significant health hazards that can lead to low birth weight, testicular and kidney cancer, liver damage, immune system weakening, and damage to the thyroid. Because of these risks, PPA explicitly raised the fact that SRL was virtually certain to encounter and release or alter the movement of PFCs in groundwater. The Air Force responded by stating that “based on the current information, it cannot be determined if PFC contaminated groundwater would be encountered within the PSA [Project Study Area].” The Commission, however, proceeded without even addressing this risk, but simply made the sweeping statement that the pipeline actually would not encounter any contaminated groundwater.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently pointed out many of these hazards to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with regard to the PennEast pipeline. Specifically, DEP voiced its unease with using HDD to cut through Category 1 streams. Per DEP’s classification of surface waters, NJAC 7:9B-1.4, Pinelands waters are classified as Outstanding National Resource Waters, which is the highest level of protection. Neither NJNG nor SJG has presented sufficient evidence to mitigate risks Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) poses to the aquifer. The SRL requires over twenty segments of HDD in the Pinelands area alone, and the SJG requires over 7 miles of HDD segments. HDD carries inherent risks of leaks of drilling fluid, liquid condensates, and methane during construction and operation of pipelines. These risks are only exacerbated by the acidic groundwater of the Pinelands region. Additionally, areas of open trenching require construction dewatering, particularly in areas of shallow groundwater as is the case with the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer. There has been insufficient analysis of construction dewatering, which leaves the fate of neighboring wetlands and streams to chance. Dewatering may also lead to contaminant or sediment resuspension, further endangering the aquifer.
April 2, 2015: NJNG filed a petition with the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) pursuant to N.J.A.C. 14:7-1.4 seeking authorization and approval to construct and operate the SRL at a maximum allowable operating pressure of 722 psig. (the “Pipeline Safety Proceeding”).
June 2015: PPA, Burlington County, and the Townships of North Hanover and the Township of Chesterfield filed motions to intervene in the Pipeline Safety Proceeding, and the Township of Plumsted filed a motion to participate.
August 19, 2015: BPU issued an Order denying all motions to intervene or participate and deemed the matter “uncontested”, ruling that PPA and the towns did not have a statutory or constitutional right to participate in a hearing on the Pipeline Safety petition.
July and August, 2015: BPU holds two public meetings at which it says it takes public comments on the pipeline, but subsequently states that such input represents only opinion, not evidence which the BPU would consider in its decision.
September 3, 2015: New Jersey Rate Counsel filed a motion for reconsideration of the August 19, 2015 Order and for consolidation of the Pipeline Safety and the MLUL Proceedings.
December 7, 2015: BPU holds evidentiary hearing in the MLUL Proceeding. PPA was not permitted to present evidence or cross-examine NJNG’s witnesses.
January 28, 2016: BPU approved NJNG’s Pipeline Safety Petition to construct and operate the SRL. BPU also denied the motion to reconsider and consolidate.
March 15, 2016: PPA files an appeal against the January 28th Pipeline Safety approval in the Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court. The Townships of Chesterfield and North Hanover also appeal BPU’s decision.
March 10, 2016: Pinelands Commission Executive Director Wittenberg writes to the BPU stating that a December 9, 2015 Certificate of Filing issued for the Project continued to be valid and that the pipeline route complied with the permitted land uses under the CMP. The Pinelands Commission, however, did not make any final decision as to whether the SRL was consistent with the minimum standards under the CMP; the Executive Director simply provided her opinion as if it was a formal decision by the Pinelands Commission.
March 18, 2016: BPU issues an Order finding that, in accordance with N.J.S.A. 40:55D-19, the Project is reasonably necessary for the service convenience, and welfare of the public; that NJNG should be able to construct and begin operation of the Project as proposed; and local land use and zoning ordinances, and any other ordinances, rule or regulation promulgated under the auspices of the MLUL shall not apply to the Project. BPU cited the Pinelands Commission Executive Director’s March 10, 2016 correspondence stating that the Project was consistent with the CMP, but BPU made no findings with respect to the Project’s compliance with the Pinelands Protection Act or CMP. (Aa103-104).
April 29, 2016: PPA filed its appeal against the BPU and Pinelands Commission challenging the approvals granted to NJNG.
November 7, 2016: The Appellate Division decided the matter of In re Petition of South Jersey Gas Company, 2016 WL 6575214 (App. Div. Nov. 7, 2016), a case filed by PPA and other parties against the South Jersey Gas pipeline approvals. As in the NJNG/SRL matter, BPU had relied on correspondence from Executive Director Wittenberg that the project was consistent with the CMP, which is exactly what happened in the case at bar. The Court ruled that the Pinelands Commission Executive Director does not have the power to grant approval of a major project like the South Jersey Gas pipeline, but that the matter must be presented to the full Commission for decision.
December 9, 2016: The Pinelands Commission, after the Court’s decision in the South Jersey Gas matter, met in closed session and adopted Resolution No. PC4-16-42 to set up a new procedure for review applications like the pipelines where BPU had overridden any municipal review processes. The matter was not on the Commission’s agenda, the Commission took no public comment, and, apparently, the Commission did not even have before it a written resolution before it voted. The Resolution says the Commission will not hold any public hearing on these cases, but just let the public make comments at a Commission meeting.
January 31, 2017: In response to a motion by the Pinelands Commission, the appeals court remands (sends back) the NJNG pipeline matter to the Pinelands Commission for a review consistent with the requirements of the court in the South Jersey Gas matter.
June 2017: The parties complete the briefing of the appeals against the BPU order granting approval of NJNG’s Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL) Petition (that is, the order overriding any municipal planning board review procedures of the pipeline and effectively giving NJNG all its required BPU approvals).
June 9, 2017: Pinelands Commission adopts Resolution PC4-17-10 reiterating that in the NJNG/SRL matter it will use the informal process it had already adopted in 2016.
July 17, 2017: PPA files appeal of the Pinelands Commission Resolution PC4-17-10 on the grounds that the informal process is illegal under the Pinelands Act and CMP, was itself adopted without public comment and rulemaking procedures, and is unconstitutional.
July 26, 2017: Pinelands Commission holds a meeting at which it “accepts” public comments on the NJNG/SRL pipeline. The meeting allows no formal presentation of evidence, requires no presentation of evidence by NJNG, and provides for no examination of witnesses in favor or against the approval.
September 14, 2017: Pinelands Commission approves the NJNG/SRL pipeline via Resolution PC4-17-27, by a vote of 8 in favor (the minimum needed for approval), 4 against, two absent/vacant position, and one abstention.
October 26, 2017: PPA files appeal of the Pinelands Commission approval of the NJNG/SRL pipeline. Bordentown, Chesterfield, NJ Sierra Club and Environment New Jersey also file appeals.
January 18, 2018: The parties complete the briefing of PPA’s appeal of Pinelands Commission Resolution PC4-17-10.
December 2018: NJNG begins building the pipeline in Ocean County, where it has road permits. It did not start building in Burlington County, because Burlington County has not issue permits.
May 2019: The parties will brief the appeals filed by PPA, Chesterfield, Bordentown and NJ Sierra Club against the Pinelands Commission approval.