Hunterdon County Board of Freeholders talks of “draconian measures”

I heard John King speak at the Hunterdon County FERC scoping meeting. He sounded extremely reasonable, gave well thought-out arguments. And it was clear he was severely pissed at PennEast and the FERC.

John is the director of the Hunterdon County Board of Freeholders, so his words carry some weight.

He opens:

The subject of the Penn East natural gas pipeline has sparked comment and controversy since the unveiling of the project’s concept last year. This Freeholder Board withheld judgment to afford the pipeline’s proponents and critics a fair hearing and consider additional issues affecting Hunterdon County as a whole. In light of the facts before us, we are compelled to oppose Penn East’s application.

Like many people (myself included), he and the rest of the board was not instantly against the PennEast pipeline. He was willing to listen to what they had to say and see what benefits they might afford us.

From my POV, what he found is that:

1) This pipeline is not meant to benefit the people of New Jersey. Any such benefit would be mere side line of opportunity, not the main point.

2) The choice of route is incredibly bad.

3) They are choosing the easy way instead of the ethical way.

In his words:

Our objections are based upon (1) the disregard of potential alternate paths using existing easements that may result in the abuse of eminent domain to destroy conservation easements and pre-empt County open space policy; (2) the insufficiency of proposed compensation to affected landowners; (3) the threat of construction- generated water contamination in specific neighborhoods serviced by private wells; and (4) the absence of a lasting public benefit outweighing the burdens upon homeowners in
the project’s path.

He goes on to point out how PennEast is almost systematically wiping out Open Space conservation easements in the County, and is not even trying to find alternatives.

Among the properties lying in the proposed pipeline’s path are 23 farms constituting 2,007 acres of County-preserved open space. If approved, the Penn East pipeline would necessarily extinguish the County’s conservation easements of those those farms and trump a County open space policy mandated by three successive voter referenda. This issue alone warrants our opposition.

Moreover, Penn East has raised the specter of eminent domain —presumably to thwart the County’s defense of its interests in the preserved open space. This threat arises despite the existence of alternate routes within established public utility rights-of-way, including similar pipeline easements.. It is our understanding that Penn East has not contacted some utility companies to negotiate co-location of its pipeline within their easements. A judicial taking of property for use by a for-profit corporation should always be a last resort. We will never support a proposal that threatens the condemnation of land where less draconian measures of property acquisition have not first been exhausted.

The above issue is one of the biggest ones I personally have with PennEast. They aren’t even really trying here. Their route choices are predominantly based on playing with Google Earth, and a single aerial reconaissance. If they were serious about minimizing impacts they would do real surveys before even getting the FERC involved.

John goes on to talk about the inadequate compensation involved:

Penn East also proposes inadequate —and therefore unjust —compensation to Hunterdon taxpayers in the project’s path. The utility conglomerate merely proposes to pay owners the one-time loss of value attributed to the new encumbrance on property. Pipelines earn continuous profits potentially to include additional revenue from other public utilities. The benefits Penn East would reap from any targeted property are analogous to those received by wireless providers from cell. towers. Wireless companies place cell towers on another’s property with an agreement to provide the owner with a
stream of income, much like a lease. When the company leases those towers to other wireless providers, the land owner receives additional income due to the third party’, commercial use of the owner’s land. Properly owners in the pipeline’s path should be treated no diiferently. Thus, if Penn East is going to earn continuous profits from the exploitation of the land of another, it should make that owner a partner.

The issue of people’s wells is of course well known. He argues that PennEast must avoid these entirely.

Construction disturbance near a local drinking water supply raises contamination concerns. The proposed project slices through 53 acres of Tier 1 well protection areas —neighborhoods with residents overwhelmingly dependent on the consumption of well water. Prior local experience with drinking water contamination caused by poorly supervised construction near an existing transfer station proves that a potential threat to the well protection area is a well-founded misgiving. In fact, we would prefer that any pipeline be routed around this area entirely.

On the question of who benefits, PennEast again fails to give us any useful information.

The usual benefit of a pipeline passing near a neighborhood is access to the natural gas running through it. In the public hearings, however, Penn East could not guarantee that this pipeline would connect a single additional residence to natural gas in any time frame beneficial to current homeowners. In fact, our County is poorly served by natural gas due to the nature of its dispersed rural population. As a result, our homeowners are unlikely to reap much of any corresponding reduction in the cost of natural gas because so few County residents have access to it.

He closes with the point that the main issue is not the source of the gas. It’s an issue for some but not all. But that the route is nearly wrecklessly determined and will not benefit us.

To be clear, this Board has not swallowed whole every argument brandished by critics of Penn East’s application. We do not oppose the principle of constructing underground pipelines to transport natural gas. This method of delivering energy to consumers has proven far less dangerous than alternate means of transport: ship, truck and rail. Natural gas ibrelf is known to be a much cleaner burning fuel than this region’s other major sources of electricity, such as oil and coal. Secondly, several natural gas pipelines already cross Hunterdon County and have existed for decades. We do not subscribe to the notion that the mere presence of an additional pipeline within our County’s borders is a sufficient basis to oppose this project.

As proposed, however, the Penn East project unnecessarily threatens property rights at the Constitutional sword point of eminent domain, and offers no prospect of just compensation for the land it targets for lease or condemnation. The pipeline’s construction endangers an identifiable drinking water supply and fails to deliver the only lasting benefit that such a project can offer atfected neighborhoods: connection to natural gas. Thus, the Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders shall resolve to oppose the proposed configuration of the Penn East pipeline.

The Hunterdon County Board of Freeholder’s submission is available below:

Hunterdon County Freeholders Submissio – FERC Generated PDF

Hunterdon County Freeholders Submissio – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

Dream home is nearing completion – but so is the PennEast proposal

Henry from Stockton, NJ is just a few weeks away from completing his dream home in Delaware Township. Unfortunately his dream is located fairly close to both the original and proposed pipeline routes.

I am weeks away &om completing my dream home on a piece of property located close the the proposed route of the PennEast pipeline project. My property is between the original route and the proposed alternate route of the pipeline. My property is located at Block 19 Lot 24 in Delaware Township, NJ.

One reason we decided to build here is that almost the entire immediate area surrounding my home are properties in Farmland Preservation. We enjoy the rural character of the area and would not like to see it marred by a new pipeline right of way. I feel our community was directly targeted because so many properties are in preservation.

I do have some concerns about what could happen to my home and family as well as my drinking water well. I believe the public need for this project has been greatly overstated by PennEast since New Jersey, where the pipeline will terminate, already enjoys the low’est residential natural gas prices in the region. The corporation “needs” the pipeline for profits, not for the benefit of the citizens in the area. I also find it very ironic that residential gas delivery will not even be offered to the very communities that will have to be traversed by the pipeline.

There is a very sad and deep irony buried in Henry’s story. If you google his block and lot information in Delaware Township you’ll land on the minutes of a Delaware Township municipal meeting that took place several years ago. The topic was variances they needed from the town and the NJ DEP to install their septic system. They noted that it took two years to complete the NJ DEP approval process.

Think about that for a moment. An individual trying to get a septic system installed on their lot needs to go through a lengthy process that takes years to get environmental approval for. For just one house. Meanwhile PennEast says that the entire pipeline process will be done in the same amount of time!

What kind of planet do we live on that approving an individual septic system takes two years but approving a pipeline sails through the system?

Henry also shares his eye-witness account of the 36″ gas pipeline explosion in Edison, NJ in the 90s. One part talks about why it took hours to get the pipeline gas flow turned off:

The valves on this pipeline normally operate in power assist mode, in which the gas pressure powers a small motor that opens and closes the valve. Normally, it is a seven- to 10-minute procedure. This night the rupture had reduced pressure in the line such that the valve would not automatically turn. However, even if there had been sufficient pressure, firefighters were concerned that the natural gas vented off from this valve during the automatic valve-closing procedure would be ignited by the intense heat from the fireball.

South Plainfield Volunteer Fire Department and TETCO employees had to close the valve manually. The firefighters, in four- or five-member shifts, took turns on the four-foot-diameter hand-wheel, moving it six to eight inches at a pull against the flow of gas through the line. The heat was such that the reflective material on their turnouts burned away and the bottoms of their fire boots melted. It took 752 turns and 2 1/2 hours to close the valve.

Henry’s submission is available below.

Henry’s submission – FERC Generated PDF

Henry’s submission – FERC Generated PDF Alternate site

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

Holly from Kingwood Township, NJ

Holly writes:

I am writing to express my opposition to the PennEast Pipeline Company and their intent to disrupt our beautiful preserved properties, our clean Delaware River, our C-1 Streams and the wildlife that so depends on this eco-system. I have resided in Hunterdon County NJ my entire life because it is absolutely beautiful and a hidden treasure. My concern is for our drinking water due to Kingwood Township reliance on independent wells. We have no public services in this area and rely solely on deep wells.

As our soil is mostly clay and sub soil is rock it is difficult to dig in this area. If PennEast begins to blast we will lose our wells. I am also concerned over the acceptable leakage amounts by this company. If it should leak anywhere in this area due to the sub soil rock formations it will pollute miles of drinking wells due to the fractioning of that rock. Our water is our most precious resource. I do not want PennEast to ruin our environment, my home community or disrupt the wildlife that we re-introduced to our area ie, the Bald Eagle. Many Bald Eagles now call our Delaware River Valley their home. We also have many areas with tons of Indian artifacts, historical sites, and parks. This pipeline will not be of any benefit to our area and I, again, oppose this pipeline.

Holly’s comments – FERC Generated PDF

Holly’s comments – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

Routing the pipeline through a Wellhead Protection Zone

Inside of tiny Delaware Township, NJ is an even smaller unincorporated town area called Rosemont, NJ.  You can see it in Google Earth below:

You can see the pipeline proposed corridor in purple in the upper right of the picture.

Bill lives in Rosemont, and like many of us he’s concerned about his well water.  But apparently in Rosemont things are even worse than your average well-based community in the region:


I am a long time resident of Rosemont NJ, a Historic designed town. I am extremely concerned with the proposed route for the PennEast pipeline and the fact that in the current plans it is going directly through our Well Head Protection Zone designated by the state of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection. Our town had water quality issues in the past which forced the town to provide safe drinking water through this township well. It would appear that PennEast did not do the necessary homework to understand that there was even a township well and that they were recommending a route through the protection zone. You can not allow the potential destruction of our well head protection zone, for if the well becomes polluted, the residents of Rosemont have no other alternative for safe water to our homes. We do not know what could happen during the construction of this pipeline, but the construction of this Pipeline has the high probability of affecting the entire water supply for the residents of Rosemont, Delaware Township, New Jersey. Please review this concern with extreme diligence and make sure that our drinking water supply is never impacted by disregarding the DEP Protection of this well. It was very disconcerting to think that for a project of this scope and magnitude, and the impact that it will have for all of the areas along the proposed route, that PennEast did not do their homework to understand, or even know, there was a protected zone in Rosemont. If this is an indication of for how well they will perform their duties in the future, I think there is serious reason for concern.

Please make sure you stand up for our safe water supply here in Rosemont, New Jersey, and our surrounding communities. The pipeline MUST be rerouted away from the protected well head zone. I would also like to understand should PennEast be able to bypass this DEP protection of our water supply, and should they significantly impact our supply of safe drinking water, what legal recourse do we as citizens have for the loss of our water supply and the resulting NEGATIVE impact that will have on home values, for without a safe water supply, our homes will be worthless.

As I read FERC comments and look through the PennEast documents I can’t stop shaking my head at what’s going on here. PennEast is willing to spend a billion dollars to build this pipeline but seems to have done exceptionally little planning on the picking their preliminary routes. They seem almost comically wreckless in their route choosing.

You can see Bill’s submission below:

Bill of Rosemont – FERC Generated PDF

Bill of Rosemont – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

Arsenic in our water

Debra and John from Stockton, NJ made a FERC submission today that included comments from a Prof. Tullis Onstott, from the Department of Geosciences at Princeton University. He goes into detail explaining the unique geological makeup of Hunterdon County, and how constructing a pipeline through it is a really, really bad idea for residents. He states:

My second concern, however, is far more significant. The proposed route through Hunterdon County cut right through the Triassic shales of the Passaic and Lockatong Formations. It has been long established that these formations, particularly the Lockaton argillite belt that runs through Hunterdon, are the sources of arsenic in the groundwater in this region. Several New Jersey Geological Survey reports document the high arsenic levels in the wells in Hunterdon and Mercer counties. This belt of rocks form an arsenic hot spot. The groundwater supply is known to be vulnerable in these counties, but Hunterdon county is uniquely vulnerable because the farms and rural homes all rely upon well water. They have no access to the public water utilities of their much more populated neighbors. The privately-owned wells are the source of drinking water for
the families and for their livestock. These wells tap a surficial,unconfined, fractured rock aquifer in the Lockatong, Passiac and Stockton formations. The proposed PennEast pipeline cuts right through the arsenic hot spot where it can do the most damage to the drinking water supplies of the inhabitant. The soil cover is thin, so in order to bury the 36″ diameter pipeline they have to trench or drill through the bedrock.

This excavation will aerate the rock formation and expose the arsenic-bearing pyrite to oxidation which will released the arsenic as arsenate into the groundwater. This will occur on every ridge of ever drainage divide the pipeline will cross and I am told that the proposed route crosses 87 drainage divides. These same drainage divides are the recharge zones for the groundwater used by the farmer and rural residences. This, however, is not the worst aspect of the pipeline. Once the pipeline is buried, its components and any methane that leaks from the pipeline provides
reductants that will be consumed by anaerobic bacteria. These anaerobic bacteria will reduce the oxidized iron in the environment and will reduce the arsenate to arsenite, the highly mobile and toxic arsenic species.

The pipeline will continue to do this throughout it operational lifetime and, if left in the ground, after its lifetime. In summary the construction phase will generate arsenic and the operational phase will mobilize arsenic. By running the pipeline through the arsenic hotspot of New Jersey, PennEast will create an arsenic pipeline that emanates into the drinking water supply along its route and there is precious little that PennEast can do about it as long as it cuts across the strike of the Triassic basin units from northwest to southeast.

Finally, I have been told that PennEast will be tunneling underneath the water drainages. In Hunterdon county these drainages all run along fracture line faults into the Delaware River. That means during the construction phase the drilling contaminants will enter the water shed. During the operational phase arsenic concentrations will likely increase in the water sheds as well. But since PennEast does not have to comply to any kind of wetland restrictions, I am not sure that they could be held accountable to this form of pollution. That is tragic, but as I said earlier, my principle concern is about the drinking water supply in this rural part of New Jersey, the arsenic hot zone.

So. A highly poisonous form of arsenic will be in everyone’s well water. And will be in run off going through our propreties. And the pipeline is going over lots and lots of ridges so the impact will be tremendous in Hunterdon county.

And on top of that it will be running into the Delaware during construction, a major source of drinking water for the whole area.

Please visit the link below to read the rest of Debra and John’s submission. It contains a fascinating description of their property (their very old home was insulated with Horse hair!) and a not-so-flattering depiction of PennEast representatives pressuring them to sign their rights away before they force the issue with eminent domain.

John and Debra of Stockton – FERC Generated PDF

John and Debra of Stockton – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site