Environmental and conservation regulations ignored by FERC and pipeline companies

I heard Mark Gallagher speak at the Hunterdon County FERC scoping meeting. He’s a VP with a firm called Princeton Hydro that’s dedicated to environmentally-sound engineering projects. His statements focused on reminding the FERC of the rules and regulations in this state, and rather pointedly showed some instances where FERC has been ignoring the rules.

His full submission to the FERC is available here:

Princeton Hydro statement – FERC Genereated PDF

Princeton Hydro statement – FERC Genereated PDF Alternate Site

I think the best part of this submission is near the end, where he states: “Difficulty in the application of the trenchless methods due to constraints such as lack of area or slope should not be used as the basis for an argument to use more invasive measures since these constraints should be viewed as self-induced since Penneast selected the route”.

In other words, Penneast can’t say “Aww, doing it the right way is too hard!”.

My comments are primarily related to the need for the FERC and PennEast to understand the regulatory requirements associated with the proposed pipeline route. From a regulatory perspective, Penneast could not have selected a more onerous pipeline route based on the environmental sensitivity of the area and the number of special protection waters that this pipeline would impact. However, based on other pipeline projects that have been granted findings of no-significant-impact by FERC it is unclear whether either FERC or Penneast has taken any relevant Federal regulations into account when planning this pipeline.

He goes on to talk about past pipelines that FERC approved – and which were found to be sorely lacking.

Previous pipeline applications including Transco’s Leidy Southeast Expansion Project have overlooked various Federal requirements during the scoping and NEPA proecess. After review of Transco’s current application to the NJDEP it is readily apparent that compliance with the Clean Water Act was not take seriously. As indicated above, New Jerseey has assumed jurisdiction of section 440 of the Clean Water Act and as such must implement this regulation as restrictively as the Army Corps of Engineers. However, whether it be a result of ignorance or arrogance the Federal regulations have not been fully applied in previous pipeline applications.

He goes on to illustrate the many issues along the route and what PennEast must do to to conform to regulations:

The route of the Penneast pipeline has shown little to no consideration for either antidegredation streams or the preserved lands along the route. Nonetheless Penneast must show compliance with section 40CFR230.10 of the Clean Water Act.

Section CFR40 230.75 describes the need to address the minimization of adverse effects on populations of plants and animals. […] Compliance with this section of 404(b) guidelines is extremely important with regard to the Penneast pipeline since the route crosses endangered habitat and antidegredation streams. Penneast must illustrate compliance with this section of the Clean Water Act as part of its need to obtain an Individual Frewshwater Wetland Permit from the DEP.

He goes on to illustrate what methods PennEast must use to stay in compliance with the various sections of the Clean Water Act:

In order to protect the sensitive aquatic resources of New Jersey, Penneast should seek full compliance with section 404 of the Clean Water Act and New Jersey antidegredation standards by by using trenchless crossing methods for, at a minimum, all sensitive waterways that are associated with Category 1 waters and endangered species habitat. The 404(b)(1) Guidelines require an alternatives analysis which addresses how impacts to waters and wetlands (waters of the United States) have been avoided or minimized. The alternatives analysis should address practicable alternatives to the discharge of dredged and fill material for each individual crossing of a wetland and/or waterbody. The proposed method of crossing should not be simply based on convenience but rather focus on the most ecologically sensitive alternatives in order to fully comply with New Jersey and Federal Regulations. Difficulty in the application of the trenchless methods due to constraints such as lack of area or slope should not be used as the basis for an argument to use more invasive measures since these constraints should be viewed as self-induced since Penneast selected the route.

In the end he takes FERC to task again, basically saying that if FERC were not involved this would be a whole other process – one much harder on PennEast, and they would have almost certainly chosen another route (or chosen not to play this game to begin with).

In conclusion if Penneast viewed this project as a typical applicant [to the NJ DEP], not one supported by FERC, and took even a little bit of time to understand the project regulatory constraints they may have more seriously considered the value of an alternative route that would have avoided the numerous antidegradation streams and other environmentally sensitive areas that they are proposing to impact.

Indeed. If this pipeline didn’t cross the Delaware this would be an NJ-only issue, and the proposition would have been dead in the water from day one. It’s only due to the FERC ignoring environmental regulations that we’re in this mess.

Illegal trespass

I think from context that Mark and Maureen from Frenchtown are related to the college student who’s submission I highlighted in a prior post, possibly parents?

They have a whole lot of issues with PennEast, the proposed route, and the conduct of the PennEast representatives:

Our family Supports under no uncertain terms the NO BUILD option for health, environmental and economic reasons. This proposed pipeline will sever our working family farm in half and will run the full width of our farm property and pass within 200 feet of our home and well.

Our concerns include and are not limited to:

1)Blasting could facilitate contamination of our well water with arsenic, radon and other toxins. This affects not only human drinking water consumption but our farm animal water consumption; in addition, contaminating our bathing water and watering of our organic vegetable and flower gardens.

2)Our home and farm animal barns are within the blast zone.

3)The pipeline path is positioned to follow our farm field drainage route causing re-direction of this natural storm water/snow melt run off, in addition, crossing cultivated prime agricultural soils. These soils are highly erodible and shallow.

4)This pipeline corridor encompasses very steep (greater than 45 %) ledge, crosses over Nishisakawick Creek (bedrock stream bed) and adjacent wetlands to the creek; in addition this pipeline will cross another small tributary to the Nishisakawick Creek that feeds our pond used for swimming, fishing, (large established plant, amphibian and water fowl populations located here)

5)This pipeline will cross historic original route 12 severely compromising existing macadam roadbed.

6)A centuries old, landmark to the farm, oak tree will be taken down to accommodate this pipeline.

7)Within close proximately to the proposed route is a nesting osprey and endangered bats.

8)Our intention was to preserve our farm; this will be impossible if this pipeline goes through. Sale of our farm in the future will be difficult at best and the value of the property will dramatically be compromised.

9)Lastly, we want PennEast and the public to know that our property was surveyed in multiple locations without permission, a state police report was filed, image of a trespasser was captured on trail cam, a metal surveyor box was left on our property (coincidentally under that old oak tree) and survey tape was removed.

In addition to our personal concerns we support all concerns of our neighbors and local New Jersey community officials and neighbors- degradation/devastation to this Delaware River Valley- our water resources and lands, scarring of our treasured open land that locals and visitors enjoy, the conflict of interest in the official studies/surveys to determine the viability of this project, countless stories of trespass, the lack of fair compensation to land owners if this project moves forward to address on-going land use and potential damage to water quality, the unwillingness of PennEast to explore first the option of using existing approved pipeline and power line easement routes, and THE DANGER to humans wild and plant life.

I’ve seen a number of reports of PennEast reps trespassing on people’s lands. They can’t be doing this by accident – there are literally an order of magnitude more “POSTED – NO TRESPASSING” signs in Hunterdon county then there are stop signs.

Their submission is below:

Mark and Maureen’s submission – FERC Generated PDF

Mark and Maureen’s submission – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

Growing up on a family farm

Ian from Frenchtown, NJ is a college student who wrote to the FERC to tell them about his life growing up on a farm in NJ:

Growing up on my family farm has been one of the most defining aspects of my childhood, and it has played a huge hand in making me who I am today. There has been nothing like being able to walk outside and having the world at my fingertips; whether I hunt, farm, or work in my family’s garden, I was privileged to have this experience as a child.

The experience, and life lessons learned from living where I do, is something that I would have loved to give my future children. Sadly there is something that could stop me from gifting them that experience if the Penn East Pipeline is approved. My family’s farm will not be the same. The pipeline will run directly through the center of my family’s property, which shockingly, would be terrible. For starters the pipeline would destroy farmland and take away a source of income for my parents. Also, it would run directly through the woods, destroying cover and shelter for the deer and other wildlife. Last but not least, it has the potential to not only contaminate the water supply to my house, but also for the nearby town of Frenchtown.

To recap and reinforce, the Penn East Pipeline will destroy everything that I love about where I live. The farming will be compromised along with hunting; most importantly, my family and I could be gone as well and potentially countless other families in my area if our water source is destroyed.

If this did not convince you about how special my home is to me, below is my college essay that I wrote a year ago. It pertains to how defining farms are to those families who own them. (After you read my essay you will understand this comment: “In addition, my favorite and my granddad’s favorite hedgerow is in the direct path of this pipeline and will be demolished.”)

He then goes on to share the essay he wrote for a college class the year before. The topic of the essay was to describe a place “where you are perfectly content”, and to further describe “what do you do or experience there, and why is this meaningful?”.

Opening day of hunting season has arrived and our family tradition remains the same; we get up before dawn and at the kitchen table, over a steaming pot of coffee and my mom’s freshly baked pumpkin bread, we reminisce about opening days in the past, and discuss the new day ahead. My family surrounds me at my kitchen table and I am content.

It is finally time to head outside. Frost crunches under my feet as I begin the walk from my house to my favorite stand. I live on a farm and this long walk goes quickly, or so I think, as my footsteps keep pace with my heart’s deafening beat. I know these woods like the back of my hand as I have walked them since I was a child and yet, in the dark, they look so foreign to me.

I finally come to my stand and settle in to wait. Mother nature is not on anyone’s schedule except her own. It is this unpredictability about my time in the woods that is intriguing and it is the only environment in which I am completely content.

The sport of hunting is important to me on so many levels. It is about spending time with family and being alone. It is about being in a place where tradition holds value, where knowledge and skills are taught and passed down through generations carefully, and where, at my age; I can contribute to providing for my family.

When I am outside in the woods or meadow, I see nature in its most natural state. I sit silently and pay attention to observing animals going about their business without any human interference in their natural habitat. Being in this environment is peaceful and there is a quiet that I experience here that is unique to
all other aspects of my life.

I am a student, soccer and baseball player, golfer, SCUBA diver, fisherman, and coach. I volunteer, travel with my family, bowl with my friends every Monday night, and I am an adrenaline junkie who seeks adventure and excitement in everything that I do.

However, I am fortunate that I understand at such a young age that every once in a while I need to take a break from all the excitement and activity, and take time to be still and think about what ever comes to mind. I was lucky to find hunting as my source of meditation. Sitting in the woods twenty feet in the air with nothing but untamed nature surrounding me is the only place in which I am at peace and completely content.

The most recent proposed route shows the pipeline going right through the middle of the farm Ian so clearly loves.

His submission is available here:

Ian’s submission – FERC Generated PDF

Ian’s submission – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

Historic Stockton Farm Threatened by Pipeline

Dan and Carla from Stockton, NJ writes to the FERC:

Our property is a preserved farm of approximately 137 acres in Delaware Township NJ. The preferred alternative route for the pipeline that is currently proposed by PennEast would traverse the entire length of our acreage. We oppose this pipeline for many reasons which are of an economic, environmental, and legal basis.

First of all, economically, our farm would lose significant value if this pipeline is allowed to bisect it. The proposed alternative route appears to be very close to our residence. Assurances from PennEast employees notwithstanding, all real estate professionals with whom we have spoken have opined that property values would decrease dramatically. How does PennEast intend to compensate us for what we anticipated to be our retirement nest egg? The pittance they hope to pay for a right of way could not begin to approach the loss we will incur if our residence is located within the “impact zone” of a natural gas pipeline.

Many farmers have documented the loss of crop yields on land they use after pipelines have been constructed. We worked hard to establish high quality hay fields, on which we use minimal chemicals. The construction & maintenance of a natural gas pipeline through our farm fields will cause compaction of our loam soils, some of which have been rated as prime & in the top seventy five percentile of statewide importance. How does PennEast intend to protect our soils, allowing them to produce as they do now? The techniques currently employed to minimize damage to the soil strata have been shown as ineffective. The damage cannot be undone once the soil is torn apart & the layers separated. We will lose the use of our prime hay fields as well as suffer reduced yields where we are still able to farm.

Our farm is also of historical significance, having been in operation since the 1700s. In front of our house is a stone hitching post, next to a stone wagon mounting block. We have uncovered old wells & cisterns which were built with stones. The property is contingent to the Rosemont Agricultural Historical District in the area of New Jersey’s only remaining covered bridge.

Environmentally, there are many considerations. The first would be the already mentioned soil compaction. We also have two ponds, one of which is fed by Plum Brook, a stream traversing the northern, wooded section of our farm. Plum Brook is home to minks, beaver, & muskrat, to name a few. The brook feeds into the Wickecheoke Creek, which makes its way to the Delaware River. The pond in our forest contains many fish, including bass & many species of turtles. The pipeline is proposed to cut through Plum Brook, which will cause devastation to the wildlife habitat. To the south of Plum Brook is an open grassland area which we provide for the birds who nest in such areas. Bobolinks & Eastern Meadowlarks live here and breed; their numbers are in decline due to a lack of territory, so we feel it is necessary to set aside land where they will be able to thrive. Another bird in decline that we are involved in trying to help is the threatened American Kestrel. Our farm has been part of the New Jersey American Kestrel Nest Box Project for the past 5 or 6 years, allowing the state to place the nesting boxes on the utility poles which cross our hay fields. Many baby kestrels have been born & banded here. Putting this pipeline adjacent to the power line will increase the already hot summer temperatures, making the survival of these precious babies less likely.

Legally, we have concerns about the selection of preserved farmland for a pipeline. As owners of a preserved farm, we are legally obligated to abide by five pages of deed restrictions. One of these restrictions reads as follows:

“No sand, gravel, loam, rock, or other minerals shall be deposited on or removed from the Premises excepting only those materials required for the agricultural purpose for which the land is being used.”

Another restriction follows:

“No activity shall be permitted on the Premises which would be detrimental to drainage, flood control, water conservation, erosion control, or soil conservation, nor shall any other activity be permitted which would be detrimental to the continued agricultural use of the Premises.”.
How can we be bound by law to uphold restrictions to the use of our property, yet a private company could be allowed by the FERC to violate those legal encumbrances?

We have sacrificed & struggled to return this farm from the neglected, fallow fields we originally found here, to a productive, self sufficient homestead. Our electricity is completely solar generated. We grow our own vegetables & hay for our horses. We try to live frugally, with respect for the land, mindful of our carbon footprint. We pay our taxes & our mortgage. This is our dream, the American Dream. Allowing the PennEast pipeline to be constructed through our farm would turn that dream into a nightmare. We will stand with our neighbors & refuse to allow this private, for-profit LLC access to our land. No action should be the determination by FERC in PennEast’s bid to destroy our preserved lands.

Like Dan and Carla I don’t understand how eminent domain can be used to take away land protected by the state. Doing a little research I came upon the following article – this discusses electrical power lines instead of gas ones, but I believe the principles are the same:

Protected Conservation Easements from Eminent Domain

The article states:

With respect to property owned wholly by a private entity, the FERC permit would entitle the permit holder to acquire a necessary right-of-way by eminent domain if the holder could not acquire the right-of-way through negotiation with the property owner. The court with jurisdiction over the condemnation proceedings would determine the just compensation owed, which would be the fair market value of the property on the date of the condemnation (including applicable severance damages).26
FERC permit holders may not, however, condemn property owned by the United States or a state. The 824p(e) exception states:

In the case of a permit under subsection (b) for electric transmission facilities to be located on property other than property owned by the United States or a State, . . . the permit holder may acquire the right-of-way by the exercise of the right of eminent domain[.]
(Emphasis added.) Thus, because the exception precludes the use of eminent domain, if FERC were to issue a permit for a transmission facility slated to cross any federal or state property, the permit holder would need to reach agreement with the federal or state agency responsible for managing that property in order to obtain a right-of-way.27

The scope of the 824p(e) exception is uncertain. Whether the exception prohibits condemnation of partial interests in land (such as conservation easements) held or co-held by federal or state government has not been indicated by Congress and not yet determined by a court. The 824p(e) exception will apply to partial interests in land to the extent that these interests are considered “property,” and can be “owned.” Conservationists and some land management agencies presumably will seek an expansive interpretation of these terms to maximize the scope of the 824p(e) exception. DOE, FERC, and utility companies, in contrast, are likely to seek a narrow interpretation of these terms to maximize siting options.

So the question becomes, can farmland and Open Spaces protected by NJ open spaces easements be protected in this manner? I wish I knew the answer. I know all local conservation organizations up to the county level are against the pipeline (the Hunterdon County Board of Freeholders gave a resounding speech against the pipeline last night at the FERC scoping meeting). I have several state representatives and senators are against the pipeline. But I haven’t found any documentation on state agencies weighing in.

Carla and Dan’s submission is below:

Carla and Dan’s submission – FERC Generated PDF

Carla and Dan’s submission – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

Crossing the Appalachian Trail

Dan of Bath, PA writes about the pipeline crossing the historic Appalachian Trail.

I am concerned about the impacts of building this pipeline and other proposed pipelines that cross the Appalachian trail. Furthermore, I have concerns in general about a large increase in the development of natural gas reserves and the impact of using those reserves quickly on climate change and air and water pollution. I believe that FERC and it’s environmental impact statement should address the issues of not only the creation of the pipeline and where it’s sited, but also the larger impacts of exploiting these resources quickly based on creating new large capacity pipelines, and their potential pollution impacts and health costs including the release of atmospheric gases and contaminated water. This should include the rate of development of these natural gas reserves and consideration of the fact that PA and NJ rank in the top 10 of all of the states with the highest levels of air pollution. If FERC should be weighing the public benefit of the building this pipeline then it should consider the cost of the health impacts of air pollution on the public. Current air pollution maps show that the terminus for this pipeline is one of the highest areas of air pollution in the country. Long term health impacts to the millions of people living in the area should be weighed against the benefit of employing 2000 construction workers for 8 months or even the profits of even cheaper natural gas to the communities purporting to benefit from this pipeline.

I volunteer maintaining the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT) and personally spend over 100 hours a year working to support the trail. I am concerned about new fragmentation of the forest along the trail. New cuts through the forest create openings for invasives and also cause fragmentation of contiguous forest cover which impacts some species of wildlife. I would like to see this new pipeline co-aligned along existing infrastructure particularly in areas where it crosses forested lands such as the AT. For instance, in this case, the pipeline could be co-aligned with a powerline crossing of the AT that is a short distance away from the proposed AT crossing (between Delps and Little Gap.)

I am concerned that during construction the PennEast construction contractor may not want the public to use the trail or trailheads that cross their construction area. The trails must remain open like any other transportation corridor (road, powerline, etc).

I was involved in the monitoring of the construction of the recent Williams-Transco pipeline in the section called “Wind Gap loop” where the new pipeline crossed the Appalachian Trail – FERC docket – PF06-32-000 and have found that although best practices were followed in the construction and restoration of the land after the construction of that pipeline, there has been little recovery of the “temporary” buffer area that was cleared during construction. Most of the trees replanted have died. Invasives have spread throughout the cleared area. The so-called temporary buffer is not temporary in terms of the forest damage caused looking back over 8 years.

Following up on the above experience, I don’t understand why this pipeline that starts and ends in basically the same area as the Williams- Transco pipeline isn’t using the same ROW. Transco has 4 lines installed in the ROW the oldest of which is quite small. As an alternative, the smallest of those could be purchased by PennEast and replaced with a larger pipe, staying basically within the same ROW. This would involve less direct impact across new areas.

In the past month, I’ve read about natural gas explosions in NJ leveling a home and causing evacuations of a neighborhood and many injuries. I’ve read about explosions further away in West Virginia and locally last winter in Allentown and Moorestown PA. Clearly the companies (including the PennEast member companies) that provide this dangerous explosive gas are not following best practices as their buried pipelines have failed as the infrastructure ages and they have failed to replace and repair them. I’m concerned that if this line is built it will one day in the future have a catastrophic failure and cause injuries and death. I’m also concerned that power generation stations and industries that solely depend on it will become huge liabilities in the case of fuel delivery failure.

As people in the FERC scoping meetings have stated, many people’s objections are not based on theories or conjecture, but on observed fact. Many many pipelines have been built before and we have objective evidence of the end results. The most telling part of Dan’s submission for me is what he learned from a pipeline through the A.T. several years ago:

I was involved in the monitoring of the construction of the recent Williams-Transco pipeline in the section called “Wind Gap loop” where the new pipeline crossed the Appalachian Trail – FERC docket – PF06-32-000 and have found that although best practices were followed in the construction and restoration of the land after the construction of that pipeline, there has been little recovery of the “temporary” buffer area that was cleared during construction. Most of the trees replanted have died. Invasives have spread throughout the cleared area. The so-called temporary buffer is not temporary in terms of the forest damage caused looking back over 8 years.

Let’s hope the FERC listens.

Dan’s submission is below:

Dan’s submission – FERC Generated PDF

Dan’s submission – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site


Clear cutting old growth forest not a consideration of PennEast, period

Julian in Pennington, NJ is another resident along the pipeline route who’s had unsatisfactory discussions with PennEast representatives. He tells the FERC:

As a landowner in Hopewell Township (NJ), Block 92, Lot 8, on Scotch Road, I object to the current proposed pipeline route along the existing power easement. That route would require clear cutting a large swath of old growth forest – hundreds of years old – on my and adjacent parcels. This is a forest my family, neighbors, community and I explored and enjoyed for many years, in my case, the past 50 years since moving there in 1965.

I mentioned this objection to several pipeline representatives, and was told by all that clear cutting old growth forest is not a consideration for them in routing or re-routing their pipeline, period. I hope that your agency would think otherwise – that forest will take hundreds of years to regenerate and provides much needed habitat for a wide range of plant and animal life.

In addition, I object generally to the need for this pipeline. The fact that interested parties will purchase natural gas to resell abroad does not, in my view, establish the kind of need warranting a certificate of convenience and necessity. The current slow-down in drilling Marcellus Shale in PA arises not from a lack of pipeline infrastructure, but from low prices resulting from arguably an over-supply, a condition which the
proposed pipeline would only exacerbate.

Thank you for your consideration.

I supposed PennEast caring about clear cutting old growth forest shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone anymore.

Take note of the other section of Julian’s submission. As he indicated exploitation of Marcellus Shale is slowing down significantly because prices of oil and gas are so low. We have a glut of energy and this pipeline makes no sense.

Compare this pipeline to the Leidy Southeast expansion. Leidy is carrying only half as much natural gas, but it’s being spread from NY down the coast to the Carolinas. With this already approved, why do we need a PennEast pipeline carrying twice as much natural gas – but supposedly only targeted to central NJ and eastern PA? This makes no sense – the PennEast pipeline will effectively double the amount of natural gas being pumped into the region. There’s no way we could use all this gas here. In fact it’s pretty obvious that the gas will not benefit our region at all but will be shipped elsewhere. Possibly ashore – the news is awash with stories of U.S. becoming an exporter of natural gas for the first time and companies aggressively pursuing permits from the government to ship natural gas abroad.

Julian’s submission is available below:

Julian’s submission – FERC Generated PDF

Julian’s submission – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site