For some reason FERC has been re-submitting some reports to the docket today, including the NJDEP comments on the Draft EIS. The full report is here:
Part of the report contains comments from the NJ Geological and Water Survey department of the NJDEP (NJGWS). Their comments talk about concerns of arsenic, boron, and other contaminants that have high concentrations in the proposed PennEast route. Their conclusion on arsenic migration can be fairly categorized as “we don’t know” – which appears to be an honest statement, not subterfuge. They state:
Attachment 2-1 in the PennEast drafl EIS contains an arsenic leaching study by Dr. Michael E. Serfes. This is a detailed lab study of arsenic leaching done on samples from selected units. This study confirms that additional arsenic will be mobilized in the aquifer as a result of the pipeline construction. However, Serfes concludes that most of this arsenic will be re-adsorbed in and near (within 365 feet) of the construction area and further diluted as it migrates away from the pipeline. Unfortunately, the Serfes study was extremely limited in quantity of bedrock tested, with only 14 samples being leach tested, compared to the vast heterogeneity that exists in the miles of bedrock aquifer along the path ofthe proposed pipeline. A large number of variables that are extremely difficult to predict also went into the modeling and leave much uncertainty regarding the actual risk to nearby wells.
There are numerous additional variables that could be studied by a laboratory analysis. The number of permutations is quite large. Practically the only way to actually determine ifthe construction and operation ofthe pipeline will affect nearby wells is to conduct an adequate pre- and post-construction well-monitoring plan.
It’s already been mentioned that the Serfes study may not all that relevant because it concerns itself with construction impacts and not really the operational impacts (which are the ones many people are worried about).
But that’s neither here nor there. The point is that NJGWS rightly points out that “The proposed pipeline route will cross over a number of geologic units with known elevated levels of arsenic. This has been well documented and studied over the past decade“. As such, they take a conservative view (which I wholly concur with) that if construction is approved, that PennEast be wholly responsible for the impacts. And they are taking FERC to task on exactly what those impacts might be.
In their comments, NJGWS states (emphasis mine):
It is very important that PennEast conduct an adequate monitoring of wells near the proposed pipeline path. Attachment 2-1 proposes to follow FERC’s recommendation and monitor all wells within 150′ of the pipeline, 500′ in karst terrains. This is inadequate. NJGWS recommends that all wells within 1,000′ of the pipeline path be monitored in all terrains. This recommendation is based on professional judgement, guidelines developed for New Jersey’s well head protection program, potential for fracture and conduit flow, and the large amount of uncertainty regarding hydraulic properties of the aquifers.
That’s right – NJGWS is saying that FERC’s arbitrary “150 foot” standard is not adequate, and they are recommending a 1,000 foot standard instead. Ironically – or perhaps not – this is almost exactly the “Potential Impact Radius” for the pipeline.
They go on to say that samples should be taken at 6 month, 1 year, and 2 year intervals after construction.
This shows that, just as with safety regulations, the federal regulations are weak, and State regulations are much stronger – and should be adhered to, since the construction by definition has local impacts.
There is one thing missing from the NJGWS statement though, and we should press NJDEP on this: in addition to monitoring, PennEast must be forced to make whole any property who’s well is impacted in anyway by the pipeline. Monitoring is not enough – PennEast has been be held accountable as well.
On top of all of this – in the NJDEP submission, multiple NJDEP staffers note PennEast’s utter lack of well and drinking water information in NJ, and point out that it would be trivially easy for PennEast to determine actual impacts if they actually tried to. They conclude over and over again in the document that PennEast really isn’t trying.
Last but not least, the final word should be left to Michael Catania of NJ Natural Lands Trust. He certainly does not pull any punches in his response:
“It is important to note that PennEast has specifically designed the route to avoid traversing lands preserved by federal easements but it is quite willing to trample upon state preserved lands because FERC’s certificate will allow them to do so. The NJDEP has asked PennEast to consider NJNLT lands as the most important state preserved lands to avoid, yet PennEast refuses to do so. This refusal is especially insulting because the NJNLT was specifically created in 1969 by the New Jersey Legislator to preserved lands that protect the state’s natural diversity such as endangered species habitat, rare natural features, and significant ecosystems and to ensure the protection of such lands from condemnation. Since 1969, no lands owned or managed by the NJNLT have been condemned. If FERC issues a Certificate to PennEast with the powers of condemnation, this will be the first time in 47 years that the natural diversity of the NJNLT preserve is threatened.