Professor Tullis Onstott provides his formal evaluation to FERC

Prof. Tullis C. Onstott of the Department of Geosciences at Princeton University has been mentioned here and in people’s submissions before. He objects to the pipeline route due to the concentrations of arsenic in Hunterdon county and the amount of it that will be released into our drinking water and waterways if this pipeline is built.

Impact of Pipeline on Drinking Water
Although no specifics have been given as to the depth of the pipeline, the 3‐foot diameter pipeline will require a depth of cover of at least 3 feet below the surface, and, more likely 4 feet below the surface where the pipeline crosses many farmlands in Hunterdon County (as specified by the USDOT regulations at 49CFR192). This means the pipeline trench will need to by 7.5 feet deep and because most of the soil in Hunterdon County is less than 32 to 64 inches10, the bedrock will have to be excavated. This means that the trench construction, which will in some cases require blasting, will fracture, shatter, excavate, deposit at the surface in spoil piles and rebury arsenic‐rich shale exposing it to aerobic conditions. Horizontal Directional Drilling beneath the streams and creeks will crush the bedrock into fine‐grained sand and silt size particles and release arsenic into the drilling mud pits.

The professor goes onto to explain what this means in layman’s terms using an analogy.

To give you a better idea of the consequences of this construction phase imagine you are holding one kilogram piece of Lockatong argillite that has 100 ppm of arsenic. One kilogram is about the size of my fist. If you break it up and leach all of the arsenic from that rock and put it into a 1 liter bottle of Fiji water, the arsenic concentration of the water will be ~250 ppm. The MCL is 5 ppb, so I would have to dilute the water in that bottle with an additional 50,000 liters of Fiji water. In reality the Hunterdon County ground water is not Fiji water and already has elevated arsenic, but I’ll give PennEast a break and say that we would only need to dilute the water in that bottle with ~100,000 liters of Hunterdon County’s best well water. That is only about ~25,000 gallons of well water, which is not that much. If I poured 100,000 liters of water on to the surface of a farm in Hunterdon County, it would fill a 1,000,000 liter volume of the surficial aquifer, reasonably assuming a ~10% porosity. This is equivalent to 1,000 cubic meters. Given that the surficial aquifer is only ~1 meter deep in Hunterdon County, this corresponds to ~30 meter square patch (or ~100 feet by 100 feet) of farmland, which is really not much of an impacted area. The 100‐ foot length is about the width of the temporary ROW for the pipeline, if I understand this correctly. But how many kilograms of Lockatong argillite will be excavated, broken up, exposed to air and reburied into the trench within that ROW? How much of the Lockatong argillite around the trench will be fractured by the blasting? I will give PennEast a break here and just say that the trench is only 2 meters deep by 1 meter wide (it will certainly be larger than this), and I will assume that there is no arsenic in the upper 1 meter. This means that a ~30 meter long pipeline trench will expose ~75,000 kilograms of Lockatong argillite or about 75 metric tons. This is not a lot of rock (about three dump truck loads), but if it contains 100 ppm of arsenic, then it would have to be diluted with 75,000,000,000 liters of Hunterdon County groundwater in order for the arsenic concentration to be reduced below 5 ppb. That is a large volume of water. Another way of thinking about it is to assume that all of the arsenic was released from the 75 metric tons of Lockatong argillite into the 30 by 30 meters of 1‐meter deep surficial aquifer. The arsenic concentration would then be ~180 ppm, but I’ll give PennEast a break and say it is just 100 ppm to make the math easier. So to dilute it down to 5 ppb, you would need a 20,000x dilution factor for 100,000 liters of ground water. To visualize this volume, it would represent a 30‐meter wide strip of land extending perpendicular to the pipeline on both sides for a distance of 300 kilometers (it is just 2×10,000×30 meters), or 216 miles! The average diffusive groundwater velocities in this region are ~1 foot a day, so it would take ~2,500 years give or take a thousand, to dilute the arsenic plume by normal groundwater recharge.

Of course not all of the Lockatong and Passaic formation shale is 100 ppm and not all of the arsenic will be released during the excavation and blasting, but you can easily see that even if a mere fraction of the arsenic is released, that it will have a severe impact on the arsenic concentrations of the privately owned wells down gradient from the pipeline for more than the 30 year operational lifetime of the pipeline. We do know the range of arsenic concentrations in these two formations, but we do not know specifically what the arsenic concentration is of the bedrock along the proposed PennEast Pipeline route. We also do not know what form that arsenic is in within the bedrock along the proposed pipeline route, whether it is soluble arsenic or arsenopyrite or some other arsenic phase. But neither does PennEast know. This needs to be determined for the Environmental Impact Statement.

He goes onto explain the many, many threats there are to the pipeline’s integrity and the many, many ways arsenic can be released not just by the pipeline construction but also by its ongoing operations. I urge you to read his report in full.

The report also has a number of startling pictures to demonstrate what he’s talking about. This image shows the arsenic concentrations and the pipeline route. Sadly the route goes right through the highest arsenic concentrations in the state of NJ.

It shows the route crossing the Ramapo Fault System:

It goes right through water recharge zones – the zones are colored in blue:

The report goes on and on about the risks this pipeline poses to our health and environment, and provides a litany of things PennEast will have to do to even provide a basic measure of safety throughout the pipeline’s lifetime.

Please, go read his report below at one of these two sites:

Professor Onstott’s Statements – FERC Generated PDF

Professor Onstott’s Statements – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

Published by

Mike Spille

I'm a thinker, an analyzer, a synthesizer. Maybe not in that order. I live in West Amwell NJ with my wife Kristina, our two kids Day and Z, our two dogs Fern and Cinna, and two cats Ponce de Leon and Xavier.

2 thoughts on “Professor Tullis Onstott provides his formal evaluation to FERC

  1. Property owner Federal Twist Rd. Stockton. 1.) While this latest proposed Penn East Pipeline is farther away from my property than the original routes, please understand that once this pipeline is granted the right to construct, they also gain the right to move the route to satisfy their own construction needs. 2.) I appreciate everyone’s energy to fill out all the forms to “intervene”, and all the signs on everyone’s lawns, but NONE OF THIS WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE! I draw your attention to how our Governor handled the Pinelands protestors and property owners who fought the pipeline through this protected wildlife area. The Governor removed all Pinelands Commissioners who voted “no”. Then, while the local residents thought they had a pretty good chance to stop the pipeline, the Governor had a secret meeting with the NJ Utilities Board and the Pipeline Co. and their fracking affiliates. The Utilities Board immediately signed over the right to start construction. Two weeks later, the pipeline broke ground and built without acknowledgement to the residents. Currently the ground beneath the pipeline is regularly bathed in toxic herbicides to kill vegetation. In fact, it’s killing everything in that once protected wildlife area. Property values dropped significantly, it looks awful, and no one will admit that the Governor earned some form of campaign support. Then, quietly, fracking affiliates were granted the right to dump their wastewater (highly radioactive and filled with toxic chemicals) in north Jersey. It is assumed that this is only the beginning. 3.) There is only one sensible way to get a grip on this pipeline. Take a lesson from this governor’s own tactics. It would be sensible to do the unthinkable: Consider Impeachment. It will probably not remove the Governor in time, but it will feel SOOOO good!


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