Gas pipeline plans draw ‘serious concerns’
HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP — A natural gas pipeline scheduled to span 120 miles of rural Pennsylvania and New Jersey farm and preserves is generating concerns.
The underground PennEast Pipeline, scheduled for 2019 construction, is designed to deliver flammable natural gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale to customers within the neighboring states.
The pipeline traverses a path that includes New Jersey’s Hopewell Fault, a portion of the Mid-Atlantic region’s best known earthquake fault zones.
“We’ve been opposing [the pipeline] since it was first proposed,” Sourland Conservancy Executive Director Caroline Katmann said. “There are some serious concerns.”
Energy companies have been increasingly switching from sources such as coal to natural gas, a renewable fossil fuel comprised of decomposed plants and animals that accumulated in the earth over millions of years. The blend of gases that form natural gas primarily include methane, which is also found in livestock manure.
“There are more than 300,000 miles of underground natural gas transmission pipelines across the United States that exist harmoniously with the environment, including farming and open space, while providing essential energy infrastructure,” PennEast Pipeline Company Spokesperson Patricia Kornick wrote in an e-mail.
New Jersey’s Sourland Mountain Preserve is a 17-mile long mountain ridge that reaches 568 feet into the sky and extends from the Delaware River into Hopewell Township.
The Hopewell Fault, part of a larger Ramapo system of faults that spans New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, sits to the south and causes small earthquakes. New Jersey’s most recent earthquake, a 5.8 on the Richter scale, occurred in August 2011 and originated in Virginia.
Natural gas problems caused by earthquakes, flooding and other forces of nature cause large scale natural gas failures, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Pressure-related changes in gas distribution have been known to cause explosions. The PennEast Pipeline Company for its Pennsylvania-New Jersey effort has plans in place to meet or exceed all current safety standards, Kornick said.
Those plans include efforts such as weld X-rays and shut-off valves that address issues involved with gas pipeline pressure-related explosions elsewhere.
In earthquake-prone California in 2016, a 30-inch diameter steel natural gas pipeline exploded into flames in the San Bruno area, killed eight people and compromised a water main when the company increased natural gas pressure to meet consumer demand, according to PG&E. The increased pressure affected the pipe, because its thickness differed in areas and welds did not completely penetrate, the company noted.
Threats can be mitigated through efforts such as installing valves on either side of an earthquake fault area, the DOT reports.
PG&E reports that the company installed automatic and remote control shut off valves where transmission pipelines cross major fault lines so that sensors detecting pressure losses shut down the gas flow. The valve sensors also allow PG&E to turn off gas flows from a control center when the company determines that significant pressure changes have occurred, PG&E reports.
The company’s valve installations by 2015 isolated within 10 minutes a transmission pipeline that an agricultural excavation accidentally damaged, according to PG&E
“PennEast will be built meeting or exceeding all current safety standards, including automated shutoff valves and 24/7 monitoring,” Kronick wrote in an e-mail. “PennEast will also test 100 percent of welds and pressure test the pipeline to two times its intended maximum operating pressure prior to it being put into service.”
The company according to its website intends also to add a coating to prevent pipe corrosion. PennEast has received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that regulates the interstate transmission of natural gas, oil and electricity and operates under an Energy Policy Act of 2005 that provides it environmental oversight, regulatory enforcement and other responsibilities.
The company for the pipeline project can assess and condemn properties for pipeline construction since a New Jersey federal judge in December granted the company eminent domain, said Tom Gilbert ReThink Energy NJ Campaign Director.
The company has according to Kronick so far rerouted portions of the project to encompass existing easements and is working with the majority of landowners to reach a fair agreement that compensates them for any of its impacts.
Many area farmers have sold development rights to their land as part of a State Agriculture Development Committee Farmland Preservation Program.
The SADC as part of the program offers farmers three options, including selling their development rights to county agricultural development boards, municipalities and non-profits for non-agricultural development. Farmers can alternately sell the agency farmland at its lower agricultural market value for auction to a private owner or restrict land development for eight years while applying for soil and water conservation project grants.
Some 85 percent of area landowners have so far provided access for environmental surveys, and about 70 percent have negotiated easement agreements whereby the company essentially leases land as a right of way, according to information provided by Kronick.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925