The PennEast Pipeline Company, in which local energy company PSEG is a partner, has proposed a new pipeline that would transport natural gas from the famed Marcellus shale formation in Pennsylvania into the Garden State. The proposal has kicked up quite a fuss in the Hopewell Valley, garnering opposition from residents and government officials alike.
The Hopewell Township Committee Against the PennEast Pipeline, or HTCAPP, quickly took shape once the pipeline plans were published. Construction of a new pipeline would require easements and new rights of way, cutting a 125-foot-wide path through the Hopewell Valley.
Federal regulations would allow PennEast to push through the pipeline, using eminent domain if necessary, as long as certain conditions are met. The company has entered the pre-filing period with FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, with a goal of beginning construction in 2017, pending approval from FERC.
Hopewell Township, East Amwell Township and Delaware Township, three communities potentially affected by the pipeline, have passed resolutions in opposition to the pipeline. HTCAPP has been organizing via its website (htcapp.org) and an aggressive letter writing campaign.
On Oct. 18, HTCAPP members and supporters formed a 125-foot human chain spelling out a message “125 feet of devastation! Stop PennEast!”
The natural gas in the Marcellus formation is obtained through the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which opponents say contaminates groundwater and damages the environment. Fracking is prevalent in states such as Pennsylvania and North Dakota, where boomtowns are rising to take advantage of the profitable mining operations taking place there.
The Hopewell Express spoke with Patty Cronheim, a township resident and coordinator of HTCAPP, to discuss the group’s opposition to the pipeline. The transcript that follows has been edited for space and clarity.
PennEast was asked to submit a statement or do a Q&A with the Hopewell Express, but did not avail themselves of the opportunity. They have posted an FAQ on the PennEast website at penneastpipeline.com/faq.
Hopewell Express: Is your opposition to the pipeline in essence an anti-fracking stance?
Patty Cronheim: We are taking a very practical approach. We are trying to stop this pipeline because it’s going through so much taxpayer-paid-for, public-preserved lands. If we do that, then we’re stopping pipelines from going through those lands, and that will slow fracking, no doubt.
But this is the pipeline that landed on our doorstep, so we are taking care of what is our responsibility to stop. If the end result is that it slows fracking, yes, we’d be very happy with that.
People need to understand this isn’t just about Hopewell. If this pipeline goes through, it erodes open space and farmland preservation laws throughout state. New Jersey could become the pipeline capital of the world. The fight we’re doing now, this one pipeline, 108 miles long — what we’re doing now can help stop future pipelines.
Another thing is, they can put this pipeline down, get the right of way, then put in another pipeline. Once you create a pipeline freeway, it’s like, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ (In the future) when alternatives energies are what people use, [New Jersey will] still be burdened with these toxic pipelines.
HE: PennEast says the pipeline will provide low-cost energy to New Jersey. But HTCAPP has been asserting that natural gas transported by this pipeline would be earmarked for overseas markets. How do you know that this would happen?
PC: They don’t have to give their plan. But we can connect the dots. We can’t say how much is going overseas, and part of that is because the FERC regulations are so lax. But look at how much natural gas this pipeline can pump in a day (1 billion cubic feet, according to PennEast), which is more than New Jersey can use. It’s got to be going somewhere.
HE: What should energy companies be doing instead of building pipelines?
PC: They could take some of the money they’re putting into the environmental impact studies into real climate solutions — into wind and into solar — to really explore what other possibilities there are.
During the (Jimmy) Carter administration, when we had the huge long gas lines and a gasoline shortage, we had an amazing opportunity to turn around as a country and invest in real solutions. If we’d done it then, we’d be done by now. But we didn’t.
HE: To what extent would you say this is about politics, about environmentalism?
PC: I would say we certainly have people (in HTCAPP) who love the environment. We have to play in politics now because it’s a very, very political process. We’re not a political organization, we’re a group of neighbors who just deeply love this area.
HE: And to what extent is this about not liking being pushed around?
PC: Nobody likes eminent domain. You’re never going to get rid of eminent domain, but nobody likes it. In order for this pipeline to be approved by FERC, [PennEast is] supposed to show public necessity where there isn’t public necessity.
There’s a huge amount of anger in this community about being pushed around. Nobody likes a bully. That’s what PennEast is in this scenario. They are not a fair-dealing partner looking out for our best interest. Nor are they, frankly, looking out for the best interest of New Jersey at all.
HE: Say PennEast were thwarted in Hopewell and built a pipeline through a nearby town instead. Would you consider that a victory?
PC: No. We weould not consider that a victory. We don’t want anyone else to have to suffer from this pipeline.
We consider this an unnecessary pipeline, and we would especially not consider it a victory if it would go through other nearby towns. The worst part of this pipeline is it creates new rights of way. We wouldn’t want a new right of way created anywhere by this pipeline. We wouldn’t wish this pipeline on our worst enemy.
Our best choice for beating this pipeline is to focus on the specifics of our situation that make it not in the public’s best interest. Period. And maybe not everybody’s community is as well equipped to fight it as we are. In Hopewell, we have a great group of people, a strong community and people who are very fortunate in a lot of ways in their lives. We’re using that to help stop this pipeline. We’re also sharing what we know and what we do to help down the road as well.
Sourlands group opposes pipeline
The Sourlands Conservancy has also come out in opposition, issuing a statement in which they assert that construction of the PennEast Pipeline would lead to “devastation of the landscape.”
“It is much cheaper for PennEast to put a pipeline through open space than through an already developed area,” the Sourlands Conservancy wrote in its statement. “Forty-one percent of the Sourland region is preserved — will this land be the target of future pipeline proposals? This pipeline is going through land that has been preserved through the efforts of New Jersey citizens who value the preservation of open space in order to protect critical habitat, support biodiversity, and maintain the beauty and recreational resources of our state for ourselves and for future generations.
“New Jersey is quickly becoming the ‘Crossroads of Natural Gas,’ as pipeline companies rush to provide the means to transport the natural gas obtained through fracking in the Marcellus Shale beds of Pennsylvania.”
On the Web: sourland.org.