Extensive commentary on the PennEast DRBC May 2020 Application

Today 13 grassroots organizations, environmental groups, and individuals came together and submitted an extensive set of comments to the Delaware River Basin Commission on the PennEast Pipeline application.

The main set of comments is available here (29MB): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1qe0cbw4Y-9jMMaW1IbL-Z1f7I-semNV5/view?usp=sharing

The referenced Appendix A is available here (40MB): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1KILvDfi9x_nvv3v_PiCKMDJLFHEfEPVP/view?usp=sharing

The comments document the numerous errors, evasions, misrepresentations, and outright deceptions contained within the application, and urges the Commission to reject the application with prejudice.

Put simply, PennEast’s application is appalling.  Our comments go on for 30 pages about the never ending problems with the application, and is only scratching the surface.

Overall, there are 6 patterns of problems that were found:

1. The application has many errors. It is sloppily prepared and does not appear to have been reviewed properly for accuracy.

2. PennEast is clearly guilty of using a variety of techniques to collectively lower its apparent impacts within the DRB artificially

3. PennEast explicitly misleads about impacts in several places, and does not acknowledge the scenic aspect of the landscape in the northern portion of its project.

4. PennEast has a history of trying to evade regulatory oversight by numerous agencies, including the DRBC.

5. PennEast has failed to document any tangible benefit to the public from its project.

6. PennEast has mixed seemingly random materials from out of time to present a patchwork of an application to the Commission.

 

I sincerely hope the Commission takes these comments seriously and takes the right action here – reject a clearly flawed and intentionally misleading application.

 

Crunching U.S. Covid 19 Numbers

NOTE: This post is not about PennEast.

So this week I started looking heavily into the John Hopkins Covid-19 website visualizations. They are extremely useful to help understand what’s happening with the pandemic both in the U.S. as well as world wide.  In particular, I wanted to focus on State-by-State coronavirus daily infection curves, and what influences those curves.

However, I had some questions that the visualizations couldn’t easily show, such as deeper insights into what the curve looked like across the United States, how opening/closing of States has impacted the curve, etc.

Note that this post doesn’t talk about hospitalization rates, mortality, age or ethnic groups, or similar data.  Those topics are important, but for another time.  This post is all about the curve.

Summary

The summary of this research is pretty simple.  States that opened up places like bars, gyms, or pools prior to the Memorial Day weekend are now seeing huge spikes in Coronavirus infections.  And we are likely going to see another one after July 4th.  

Even States that had daily case rates of only 100 new cases a day have been hosed when they opened up bars.  It is clear you need near-zero daily cases or extensive contact tracing before certain kinds of facilities can be safely open (the good news is that beaches and most outdoors stuff seems to be OK).  

And whatever you do, don’t travel to the States whose curves I’ve designated as “Rising Steep”.  They are in serious trouble and in most of them the infection rate is far worse than it was at its height here in NJ in April.  

Finally, this is not about fear mongering.  It’s clear where States have ignored science and math or have given into political pressure and opened too early, the results have been horrible.  And in States who have been carefully doing the math and holding firm based on scientific principles, they are weathering the storm exceptionally well.

This is all about being smart and using information to drive decisions, not politics.

United Staters Covid-19 Trends

And now onto the detail.  I was able to pull a spreadsheet together from a variety of sources to help visualize trends in a bunch of dimensions.  See the “Where This Data Came From” section at the end for details and a link to the spreadsheet.

First of all, let’s look at Curve statistics for the U.S.  This is my categorization of the state of a State’s curves today (the “today” part is important).

  1. Low & Flat: 13.  There are 13 states whose curves peaked quite awhile ago, and are now in a “long tail” of a smattering of cases that are keeping them more or less flat for the past several weeks.  These are mostly in the NE.
  2. Flat: 6.  These are states where they’ve been at a steady state of infection for some time.  It is not running out of control or improving.  Note that many Flat States have had a small trend downward and may be about to bump up again.  I expect many of these will transform into  “Second Curve” states soon since the 4th of July weekend.
  3. Second Curve: 11.  The dreaded “camel double hump” curve is there for 11 States.  This is where infections peaked, started coming under control and then have started rising again because they reopened certain facilities too early.
  4. Rising: 11.  In 11 States they never really got the virus under control, and it’s been steadily rising since March, but at least the rise is moderate.
  5. Rising Steep: 11.  In 11 States there has been alarming gigantic leap in cases in the past couple of weeks.

Here’s what these look like.  All examples are from the John Hopkins covid-19 curve tracker website.

A sample “Low & Flat” Curve for today (Example: NJ).

Screen Shot 2020-07-11 at 4.28.11 PM

A sample “Flat” cuve for today (Example: Indiana):

Screen Shot 2020-07-11 at 4.30.56 PM

A sample “Second Curve” state for today (Example: Ohio):

Screen Shot 2020-07-11 at 4.33.22 PM

A sample “Rising” curve for today (Example: North Carolina):

Screen Shot 2020-07-11 at 4.34.28 PM

A sample “Rising Steep” curve for today (Example: Texas)

Texas-Curve

 

 

The Rising Steep states are terrifying.  Here is the infection data from the top 4 “Rising Steep” states over the past two weeks (not since March, just the last two weeks!).

Screen Shot 2020-07-11 at 4.44.29 PM

In total these four States alone have managed to wrack up 379,205 cases in just two weeks.

For reference, at our worst the State of NJ peaked at 3,972 new cases on April 4th.  Compare that to a 14 day average of 3,528-8,657 cases for the four states above, and imagine where they are going to be in 3 months time.

The State of the United States in July is far worse than it was in April, when we thought this thing was at its worst.

Regional Data

When you look at regional data you can also see obvious trends – where you live in the Country makes a huge impact on Corona virus status.   My regional definitions are a bit arbitrary but I think are useful in this context, this map shows what I used:

Screen Shot 2020-07-11 at 5.19.04 PM

…with the exceptions of WV (which I put into the MidWest) and VA (which I put into South East).

Here’s the breakdown.

Screen Shot 2020-07-11 at 5.24.17 PM

As you can see the North East is in pretty good shape.  Most are Low & Flat, except for Maryland (Flat) and Pennsylvania (Second Curve).  

The Mid West has a whole lot of Second Curve States – States that were doing good but then likely re-opened too soon (or saw crowds violating orders).  Only Minnesota has managed to get their curve under control and is Low & Flat.

The South East is a mess.  Only Virginia is flat.  And Floria, Georgia, and South Carolina have disastrous Rising Steep curves.

The Plains States show the full range of curves.  Relatively low-population states like Nebraska and Wyoming have been mastering their curves, while Texas and Oklahoma both have alarming Rising Steep curves (especially Texas, who-boy).

The Western States are a mess like the South East is.  5 Western States are in Rising Steep mode, including California where the Los Angeles/Orange County area is simply getting swamped with new cases daily.

Curves by cessation of Stay At Home orders

Next up we’ll look at how the curves look as related to when any Stay At Home orders were expired or revoked.  The data is fairly mixed, which seems to indicate that Stay At Home Orders in and of themselves didn’t do much on their own (but in combination with other orders and effects, perhaps they did).

Screen Shot 2020-07-11 at 5.41.13 PM

Only 1 State seems to still have a Stay-At-Home order in effect, Kentucky (but it’s not 100% clear).  That State was doing Flat for long time but is now Rising.  

States that lifted stay-at-home in April (early openers) haven’t faired too well.  Only low-population Wyoming has managed to stay Low & Flat.  The others are Rising and 1 Rising Steep (Georgia).

May is when most States opened up and the data is very mixed.  The Region dominates what happens to your State if you reopened in May.

Same with June and those States that did not have a formal Stay At Home order.

Overall, general Stay-At-Home orders by themselves don’t seem to have made a difference.  Closing indoor places of employment probably did, but otherwise it’s less about staying at home, and more about wearing masks, social distancing, and not letting certain types of facilities to open unless your cases are near zero.

Looking at Gym/Bar/Pool Opening Along with Memorial Day

We hit serious pay dirt when you look at the gym, bar and pool status of states in relationship to Memorial Day weekend.  States who had these facilities open on Memorial Day have been generally creamed by the coronavirus.  States who did not have them open have faired directly to their opening dates of these facilities, and, critically, the status of their curves at that time.  Note that beach openings are not part of this data, as that does not seem to have played a role in case spikes that I can see (although it may have contributed when drinking at beaches was allowed).  States like California opened their gyms & bars on June 11th, which is satisfyingly late, but their curve was still slowly rising at the time (they had over 3,000 new cases on the days they opened their bars and gyms).  The result is disaster.

Screen Shot 2020-07-12 at 5.24.44 PM

In general, nearly every state that opened pools, gyms, or bars prior to Memorial Day weekend has seen a severe spike in their coronavirus cases.

In all, 25 States opened facilities prior to Memorial Day.  Here is where their curves are at today:

Screen Shot 2020-07-12 at 4.47.15 PM

The two “Low & Flat” States are Delaware and Wyoming, which are low population states with very low daily case counts.  This group is dominated by 9 “Rising Steep” states along with 7 rising and 5 Second Curve States.  It seems very clear that opening facilities like Gyms and pools with any kind of significant daily new case count going into Memorial Day has been disastrous.

Opening bars specifically has also been a mistake in every case.  Even in States with very low case counts like West Virginia started seeing a spike after they opened their bars.  So unless you are down to effectively zero new cases per day, or have extensive contact tracing in place, opening bars seems to be a recipe for covid-19 disaster.

Oklahoma is another example.  They were averaging about 100 new cases a day for months.  Then they opened bars & gyms in early May.  It stayed OK for awhile, until Memorial Day hit.  And then boom.  Now their daily case count is 7x what it was.

Screen Shot 2020-07-12 at 4.56.33 PM

This means I am really worried about Pennsylvania now.  They opened gyms and bars in a few counties on May 29th, and have expanded that program throughout June.  This “county by county” approach seems like genius until you look at the numbers.  PA’s cases are now on the rise again. Because, you know, people have these things called cars, and they will go to where the open bars are (especially since you closed liquor stores for months!).

Screen Shot 2020-07-12 at 5.00.08 PM

What Didn’t Seem to make much difference

Stay-at-home orders and closing beaches doesn’t seem to have made much difference either way.  I see no correlation to letting stay at home orders lapse or opening up of beaches, other than closing indoor work probably was effective.  In general outdoor stuff where you can disperse seems to not be impacting the curves significantly here in the U.S.  

Limited indoor seems to be OK as well.  Opening malls seems to have not been a problem.

What it all Means

I think it’s clear that strict stay-at-home orders weren’t really necessary and didn’t have a big impact (hindsight is 20/20!).  What does have an impact is masks, and avoiding activities where you are in prolonged contact with others.  Opening gyms, bars, and public pools when your curve is still rising is an incredibly bad idea.  It can only be safely done when your number of new cases per day is vanishingly small, and contact tracing can be done on nearly every new case you see.  

Looking at Hunterdon County and NJ, we seem to be in a pretty good spot overall.  It is likely that schools can be open safely to some degree in the Fall.   But I really hope parents and school administrators keep a firm eye on the state data, and that they will adjust plans if July and August data starts going south.  So far Murphy seems to have done a good job in that department.

Here is NJ’s data right now.

Screen Shot 2020-07-12 at 5.05.29 PM

Looks good, right?  But look at that long tail on the right side of the graph- we are still averaging around 300 new cases a day for the past month or so.

Hunterdon County numbers look even better.  We have the third lowest case count in the State (1,094) and new daily cases are down to a trickle.  But remember – people travel.  As we saw with PA and the closed liquor stores, all that does is give people to travel to States or Counties nearby that have fewer restrictions.  If people push for “Let’s open just Hunterdon because we’re so low!”, that will just entice people from other counties to flock here.  Bet on it.

As we look towards September, let’s hope the school administrators and Board of Ed are diligent with cleaning, air purification, and mask requirements in schools (and really, really enforce them).  Kids seem to be more immune than adults, but that doesn’t mean they all are, and it only takes a few super-spreaders to bring it home to parents and grand parents, family and friends.

For States like PA that are starting to start a second curve, it’s a tough decision.  In States like CA and FL and TX, the decision (I hope) should be crystal clear – opening schools there would be suicidal.  

Where This Data Came From

For those who haven’t seen it yet, here is the link to the John’s Hopkins sites:

The US Dashboard: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/us-map

The World Dashboard: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html

Curves by State: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/new-cases-50-states

As I said, all of that is extremely useful, but also somewhat limited. But fortunately we live in a world of highly transparent science facilitated by technology, and the Johns Hopkins researchers have made their underlying dataset available on an open platform (GitHub for the geeks out there):

John Hopkins Datasets: https://github.com/CSSEGISandData/COVID-19

For my analysis I started with the July 9th daily data dump. This includes total confirmed cases of covid-19 per state, along with total deaths, hospitalization, testing rate, etc.

I then folded in the dataset from HealthData.org (thanks Lorraine for the link!).

HealthData.org Dataset: https://ihmecovid19storage.blob.core.windows.net/latest/ihme-covid19.zip

This dataset is fantastic in that it has a trove of information on when States have taken various actions (closing schools, closing non-essential businesses, stay-at-home orders, etc).

I then annotated all this data with some additional data points:

  • U.S. Region a State is in (to allow for regional analysis)
  • Curve State
  • Governor’s Party
  • Did Memorial Day weekend have an impact
  • Date bars, gyms, or pools were re-opened
  • Cause of recent curve spike (if applicable)

A lot of this extra data I took from this great Washington Post page that shows the reopening status and curves for every State in the Union:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/national/states-reopening-coronavirus-map/

With that info we can do some really basic spreadsheet manipulations you see above.

The resulting spreadsheet is available below.  It includes the probable reason for each State’s spike in cases where they have in fact spiked.  

U.S. Covid-19 Snapshot July 9, 2020: US-CoronaVirusBreakdown-07-09-2020

PennEast’s Lawyers Have Run Out of Arguments

Yesterday, PennEast’s lawyers submitted a brief to the Supreme Court attempting to rebut the State of NJ’s brief in opposition of the Court taking up PennEast’s case.

The brief was astonishing in its single minded message: the apocalypse is here.

As I read through the brief, I imagined it to be a modern narrative of Dante’s Inferno. Man being punished for its transgressions, no matter how minor, in the most gruesome fashion possible. For minor bobbles, PennEast was being excoriated, and darn it, it’s not fair!

According to PennEast’s lawyers, the sky is not only falling, it’s crashing in on the industry like a runaway dinosaur killer meteor. Demons are roaming the lands unopposed. Volcanoes are covering the Earth in lava, while tornadoes rip the rest apart, and hurricanes flood the ruins. Mutant undead are being born of horrible, twisted monsters. And as a plague of locusts and frogs and slime torrents down on the industry, PennEast and the other pipeline companies are staring at a stark future – a grim place where State Attorney Generals will morph into robotic Terminators, coming to hunt pipeline companies down one by one in a hellish landscape of nearing dystopia.

Hell on Earth is upon us all, and it is all the State of New Jersey and the 3rd Circuit’s Fault!

Read the brief for yourself:

So perhaps my imagination is running away from me, but indeed PennEast’s response is incredibly overwrought and hyperbolic in the extreme. PennEast’s lawyers say the 3rd circuit decision “Invalidates An Act of Congress!”. They claim the State of NJ “fails to demonstrate any real constitutional concern to avoid”, completely blind to the fact that the entire NJ argument is about the 11th amendment and the Constitutionally-provided protections given to it as a Sovereign State under the law. They repeatedly calls the States’ claims “peculiar”, despite the fact that the 3rd Circuit found for the State unanimously, with no dissent from either the 3 Judge panel nor in the en banc request of the full court.

They claim the question at hand is “exceptionally important”, and “threatens a profound disruption” of the industry. They claim “everyone” begs to differ with the State and the 3rd circuit.

All of these claims come about without a single footnote or reference, and an anemic table of authorities that looks like an intern phoned it in. And no where do they even mention the 11th Amendment of Sovereign Immunity, the core of both the State’s argument and the 3rd Circuit ruling.

PennEast’s lawyers have no legal argument here at all, and attempt to make none. This brief of theirs is nothing more than fire and brimstone, a naked attempt to troll the Court for bonus points. I don’t know it for a fact, but I suspect this was not the lawyer’s idea. I imagine some executive at UGI or another PennEast executive screamed at the lawyers for a few hours “to do something now!”, and this is the end result.

I suspect the Court will see this brief for what it is, and recycle the paper its printed on appropriately.

PennEast can’t help but trip over itself

Last Friday, May 1, 2020, PennEast filed a response to FERC’s April 1, 2020 Data Request on docket CP20-47-000.

As you might expect, while reading the response the image of the Keystone Kops tripping over themselves in pursuit of a villain came to mind.

The request was pretty simple, so I thought PennEast had a shot to get it at least mostly right.  What FERC said was that the abbreviated filing on this docket talked only about the Certificated Route on CP15-558, but didn’t include emissions information for the 4 PA Route changes on their amended Certificate from 2019.  OK – so submit new tables for those four changes, and they’re done – easy peasy lemon squeezy.

But no – of course not.  The response is muddled, confusing, inaccurate, contradictory with both itself and with other responses, and is riddled with errors.  I filed a Motion to the docket trying to describe all the issues (and as it is, I probably missed some – it’s that bad).

My submission is here:

MichaelSpille-CP20-47-MotionToAnswerAndAnswer-6.PDF

Here are some of the issues:

  1. PennEast starts out  on the wrong foot.  Rather than saying they were responding to the request to include data on the CP19-78 2019 changes, they go into a torturous description of how they got there.  The end result is you have no idea what exact data they are supplying – will it be the original route from 2018?  The 2019 one?  A jumble of those plus the current amendment application?  Who knows!
  2. PennEast botches nearly all of their table references.  Most of the tables say things like “Table Error! No text of specified style in document-5.2 Revised Conformity Determination”.  Yeah, no one proofed the damn thing and it’s filled with technical errors.  Some tables aren’t referred to at all and just sit out there, lonely and confused.
  3. PennEast adds in data about Phase 2.  Even though it wasn’t asked for, PennEast supplied it anyway – a whole bunch of theoretical impacts from Phase 2.  And of course, a bunch of it is wrong.  For one, the construction pollutant numbers are not consistent with those of Phase 1.  Argh!
  4. PennEast leaves out a bunch of tables because “hey, we don’t think they changed”.  Um…..
  5. PennEast quietly takes out the Columbia-TCO connection at Hellertown.  Without fan fare, warning, or otherwise saying what they’re doing, they quietly indicate that the Columbia-TCO connection has moved to Church Road.  This changes the Purpose and Need of Phase 2 entirely, making Phase 2 look even less beneficial than it was.  This information is buried in a footnote despite being a major change.
  6. The Operational Emissions tables are filled with errors!  Tons of them.  Anywhere they couldn’t copy and paste from the Final EIS or the abbreviated filing, they muffed the calculations.  They double count stuff, they get the number of compressors wrong, they get basic math wrong, and fugitive emissions and venting seem to be basically random!
  7. They get docket references wrong.  FERC 101 and they flubbed it.
  8. They don’t understand their own changes at the Kidder Compressor Station, so they fake it.  Yes.

In all, this Response is astounding.  It is clear that PennEast rushed this out the door to meet deadlines, and sacrificed any sort of accuracy for speed.  And why?  It ain’t like they’re going anywhere anytime soon.

UGI and NJR Energy Services Pulling out of Phase 1 is a smoking gun FERC can’t ignore

Today, 13 groups and individuals filed a Motion with FERC demanding that PennEast reveal the true nature of the precedent agreements attached to Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the project.  The need for this is crystal clear as PennEast has left a smoking gun in plain site on this topic: Two of its members have pulled out of Phase 1 for no logical reason.  The only reason for them to do so is because they no longer need the gas they contracted for back in 2015 and 2018.

A link to the motion is here.

The Motion is long because it follows the evolution of precedent agreements from the original application through the PA Route amendment in 2019 to the new Phase 1/Phase 2 shenanigans today.  But the central thesis is simple.

As of the 2019 amendment, UGI Energy Services contracted for 100,000 dekatherms/day capacity on the full project.  They would take receipt in a few places along the route in PA, including near the Appalachian Trail, and from the Hellertown Lateral.

NJR Energy Services bought the contracts for 50,000 dekatherms/day when they bought the assets that have become the Adelphia Gateway pipeline, which presumably would be delivered via the Columbia interconnect, or a new Adelphia interconnect.

Now, as you likely know, this Phase 1/Phase 2 business proposes that they build Phase 1 first, which is only in Pennsylvania, but does not go into New Jersey.  What you may not know is that Phase 1 does not stop where you think it might, but actually stops a few miles north of the Hellertown Lateral and the interconnects there.  The Hellertown lateral is not included in Phase 1 at all.

And PennEast refuses to say why.

But we do know that UGI has halved its commitments from 100,000 dekatherms/day on the original route, to only 50,000 dekatherms/day on Phase 1.

Meanwhile, NJR Energy Services has likewise dropped its commitments, from the original 50,000 then to 0 on phase 1 today (yes, 0).

While PennEast refuses to say why these two companies do not want delivery on Phase 1, it is pretty clear why: it’s because neither company needs that gas today, and probably can no longer justify entering long term contracts for it to their investors and Board of Directors.

This is the smoking gun – two PennEast owners, UGI and NJR, are unwilling to meet their full commitments on Phase 1.  Despite Phase 1 being 48% empty at this time.  And PennEast won’t even build the Hellertown Lateral in Phase 1, despite it being in PA and having nothing to do with “New Jersey Authorizations” that are blocking Phase 2.  PennEast has left evidence in plain site that the purpose and need behind this project has utterly collapsed.

As a result, FERC needs to compel PennEast to release the business justification for all precedent agreements, and to reveal the exact state of the precedent agreements for Phase 2.  Only with this information will the truth come out.