New Jersey Natural Gas’ Proposed Pipeline
New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG) 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.
UPDATE: DEP settling with NJNG over spills!
DEP Issues Fines for Multiple Spills: The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued two Notices of Civil Administrative Penalty Assessments on July 2, 2021 to NJNG for the construction spills along the pipeline route: one for water violations and one for land use violations. NJNG appealed the fines, and in September 2021 DEP published a settlement agreement with the company for a significant reduction to the total fine. DEP is accepting comments through October 22, 2021 on the settlement before it becomes final.
Decisions by NJ Appellate Division: On April 29, 2021, a three judge panel issued decisions on appeals filed by PPA, the Sierra Club and residents along the pipeline route. In every case, the judges ruled in favor of state agencies and NJNG, and against the homeowners, PPA, Sierra Club and our precious natural resources. You can read the decisions below under “documents”. PPA has asked the NJ Supreme Court to review two of the decisions.
More Drilling Spills in Chesterfield: Mere weeks after resuming drilling, NJNG caused three additional spills, on March 17th, 18th and 20th, along County Road 528. Wetlands buffers were impacted in two of those spills. While the NJDEP issued two Notices of Violation to NJNG, there have been no fines or significant penalties against the company, and construction has continued without delay. Additionally, NJNG switched from horizontal directional drilling to a jack bore method to finish up at the spill sites, and NJDEP did not require a permit modification. Such a significant change to the approved site plans requires an application to modify the permit under NJDEP’s regulations.
NJNG also filed a petition with the Board of Public Utilities to raise their customers’ rates, in part to reimburse themselves for the $308 million SRL (up from the original estimate of $170). The rate increase can not be implemented until the pipeline is in use. BPU will have hearings on this matter.
Oral Arguments Scheduled: PPA and Sierra Club filed multiple appeals of the approval of the SRL, both on the merits of the project and procedural deficiencies. The appeals are fully briefed, and have been for more than two years in some cases. Finally, the cases will be heard in the Appellate Division of the NJ Superior Court in January 2021. This will be our opportunity to demonstrate that the pipeline was unlawfully approved. Construction of the pipeline continues in the meantime.
Drilling Incident on Province Line Road: An incident occurred on June 19, 2020 which was just the type of event PPA was concerned about due to the close proximity of homes to the SRL project. Soon after work began in Burlington County, residents called various government agencies to report sludge entering a local stream. The foundation of a nearby resident’s home also cracked and her basement flooded; upon investigation, the township building inspector condemned the house and judged the damage to be caused by hydrostatic pressure pushing the building slab upward. This was almost certainly caused by the underground drilling. The affected resident was forced to immediately leave her home with mere minutes to gather a handful of personal belongings.
Burlington County’s Engineer immediately issued a second stop work order to NJNG, which halted drilling. In the weeks that followed, more information came to light about a pattern of similar accidents along the construction route, dating back to January 2019. In order to fully investigate the harms of HDD drilling by NJNG, on July 8th NJDEP issued a letter of suspension to NJNG. The permit that allowed drilling under streams and wetlands was suspended, but trenching and laying pipe were allowed to continue.
After NJNG submitted a new plan claiming that the pipeline could be installed safely, DEP reinstated the drilling permit on November 9th and construction continues.
Construction on Province Line Road: Construction had been continuing in Monmouth County during the COVID-19 shut downs, despite workers not practicing social distancing on site. Province Line Road divides Monmouth and Burlington Counties, but construction had been on the Monmouth side of the road since a final permit from Burlington County had not been issued yet. But NJNG drilled under several bridges that are co-owned by the two counties. On May 1st, Burlington County’s engineering department sent a cease and desist order to NJNG; drilling under the bridges without permits from both counties constitutes a violation. However, NJNG continued to build despite the stop order. The County ultimately issued the final permit for work in Burlington County, and this phase of work began in mid-June.
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 November of 2018 before receiving all approvals for the length of the pipeline. On December 12, 2018 the Burlington County Freeholder board voted 3-2 authorizing the closure of two county highways for pipeline construction. Two of the former 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. PPA filed a lawsuit challenging the Freeholders’ approval of future road closures for the construction of the NJNG pipeline because of the conflict of interest. A Superior Court judge ultimately dismissed the case, but PPA appealed that decision.
In July 2019, Burlington County notified NJNG that they had approved the permit application for construction to begin, without a vote by the Freeholder Board. The final permit was issued in May 2020.
How You Can Help
Contact the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to let them know that $108,125 is an insufficient penalty for the pattern of construction spills, damages to natural resources and private property, and the impacts to people living along the pipeline route. This penalty does nothing to deter future bad behavior, nor does it properly acknowledge the fact that NJNG misrepresented the ability of horizontal directional drilling (HDD) to prevent impacts to water, land, wildlife and people.
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.
November 2018: NJNG begins building the pipeline in Ocean County, where it has road permits.
December 2018: PPA files an appeal of the Burlington County Freeholders’ vote to allow future road closures for SRL construction, alleging conflict of interest by two then-Freeholders who are employed by the union that publicly supported the pipeline.
May 2019: The parties brief the appeals filed by PPA, Chesterfield, Bordentown and NJ Sierra Club against the Pinelands Commission approval.
July 2019: Burlington County issues an approval of NJNG’s road permit application without a vote by the Freeholder board.
May 2020: During construction on Province Line Road, construction crews drill under bridges co-owned by Burlington and Monmouth Counties without a permit from the former. Burlington County issues a cease and desist order to NJNG, which is ignored.
June 2020: An accident during construction causes the release of drilling sludge and fluid into nearby streams. The hydrostatic pressure leads to a neighbor’s home being condemned. Burlington County issues another cease and desist order. A Superior Court judge dismisses PPA’s conflict of interest lawsuit against the County Freeholders. PPA appeals the decision.
July 2020: As a result of multiple incidents along the construction route, NJ DEP suspends NJNG’s Freshwater Wetlands permit, halting the drilling but not the trenching of the pipeline construction.
November 2020: After accepting NJNG’s explanation of the spills and a modified plan to move forward, NJ DEP reinstated the permit, allowing full construction to proceed. A court date was scheduled for oral arguments in January 2021.
March 2021: Weeks after resuming construction, there were 3 more construction spills, this time in Chesterfield. Construction was allowed to proceed, and ultimately be completed.
April 2021: The NJ Appellate Division ruled against PPA, the NJ Sierra Club, homeowners along the pipeline route, and our natural resources by upholding the decisions of all the state agencies related to the SRL.
July 2021: The Department of Environmental Protection issued 2 fines to NJNG for the spills: $105,000 for water violations, and $165,000 for land use violations.
Decisions by NJ Superior Court, Appellate Division: