An enormous group of agencies, towns, organizations, and individuals have been fighting the PennEast pipeline for months now. At times it’s been a hard, grueling campaign and we all lose heart a little bit here and there. It’s easy feel a bit of despair at the enormity of the task, and the length of the road ahead of us.
But we’ve hung in there, and the efforts of so many people working towards a common goal is finally beginning to snow ball. We are seeing more and more negative news items about PennEast. More and more townships, like Delaware Township, are rising up to demand their elected officials take a hard stand against the pipeline. And conservation organizations keep grinding away, day after day and week after week, producing mountains of evidence against PennEast.
Then we have a week like last week. The NJ DEP issued a report to the FERC saying that they couldn’t evaluate PennEast’s applications at all because their survey permission rate was below 35%, and that in general their submissions were woefully incomplete and inadequate:
This is a momental setback for PennEast and a dire blow to their plans to run this pipeline anywhere through NJ.
And then we have a week like this one. Reports have started pouring in from around the region that PennEast had been conducting test bores all over the place. Drilling rigs have been spotted in NJ and PA.
One of the most disturbing was a rig discovered in Mercer county off of Pleasant Valley Road. Conservationists and individuals swooped in and investigated the site, took pictures, and started digging what was going on and who gave permission for test bores to be drilled into Baldpate. They discovered that PennEast had been talking to Mercer County about it, and PennEast more or less conned Mercer County into granting permission for test bores.
The outrage over this was deafening. People poured out of the woodwork to lodge complaints and protest this violation of a unique, preserved site.
And here’s the really amazing part: it worked. Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes released a statement today saying that they would be blocking all further access by PennEast:
He states in the release:
In light of the intrusion on numerous ecosystems and news that the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection has been unable to collect enough information to issue permits to PennEast to perform work, the county has blocked further access to its property….
Unless this project receives federal approval, the county will no longer permit any soil borings to occur on Baldpate Mountain. The county is prepared to fight on the behalf of county interests and to fight for the open space it has purchased. The county remains opposed to the pipeline
The Executive also sent a very strongly worded letter to PennEast that was reported in this article:
“PennEast is directed to immediately CEASE AND DESIST all activities on County property,” the letter reads. “Please have your company’s contractor(s) immediately remove all equipment and personnel from the County’s property, after returning the property to the condition it enjoyed prior to any work being conducted.”
This bold action is the result of the hard work of organizations such as the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Hopewell Township Citizens Against the Pipeline, the Sourland Conservancy, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and individuals such as Fairfax Hutter who brought this information to the attention of the county and sought action from them.
A similar fight is brewing up in Holland Township, where anti-pipeline groups have observed similar test drilling rigs being setup in sensitive areas. Various members of Concerned Citizens Against the Pipeline (CCAP) in northern Hunterdon County began monitoring and investigating the site and have had heated discussions with the survey personnel and management companies. PennEast reps were found to be test drilling in Highland protected water and fouling a nearby pond.
When asked if they had DEP permits to be running these test rigs they replied that they did not.
They were then questioned on what materials were being used in this test drilling. They replied that it was only water, but it was found that the test rigs on Baldpate were using drilling oil. A CCAP member on the scene reports:
I politely asked the geologist from Hatch where the water source was for the hoses, and that’s when things got uglier. He said the pond. I said I thought you weren’t discharging into the pond; he said we’re not. I said what is that big stream off the drill that ‘s running back to the pond.At this point, Western got in my face and stood between me and the Hatch geologist so I couldn’t speak to him anymore. I explained to Western that they are drilling on flood plain which requires permits from DEP, which they said they did not grant. I said that they are introducing contaminant into Highland waters which are protected against degradation and that this rig contaminated soil over the weekend. That samples of the soil contaminant have been taken, and that our lawyer is currently collecting samples from the pond for analysis. That we are submitting all this information to NJDEP and to the township. John from Western Land Services said they would not be telling me who issued the permits, but we could probably find out from FERC. I said we would find out from the township, and that our results from today will be reported to the DEP and to FERC.
There is also a question of whether PennEast secured permission from the property owner(s), and permits from the township and county for these test rigs.
As you can see momentum truly is building up against PennEast, and organizations against the pipeline are remaining vigilant and will not let PennEast sneak anything past them (and they try – boy do they try). These latest actions from PennEast show exactly how little they can be trusted, and how eager they are despoil sensitive ecological areas with no care for the consequences.
You can’t see me but I’m standing up applauding right now for the people who have worked so hard to make these moments happen, and for elected officials such as Mr. Hughes for listening to their constituents and doing what is right.