Proposed natural gas pipeline extension raises environmental concerns

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

At the Old Bridge Municipal Complex, people gathered to talk about a pipeline that would carry fracked natural gas from the Marcellus Shale over to New York. It would enter Raritan Bay about 6-miles from here and folks want to know why they get the risk and New York gets the gas.

“It’s not even for the benefit of New Jersey. These pipelines are going straight through New Jersey because of where we’re located, so we’re getting all of the risk and none of the benefit,” said Edison resident Gary Frederick.

“The last thing they need is a pipeline underneath our sea waters, and spills, it would just be detrimental. Health-wise it’s terrible,” said J.J. Mistretta, who lives in Freehold.

The billion-dollar project proposed by Williams-Transco would require a new compressor station in Franklin Township and 35 miles of underground pipeline, most of it trenched deep beneath the Raritan Bay, supplying natural gas via New York to the northeast power grid.

The NY/NJ Baykeeper’s worried about environmental impact.

“Especially marine mammals like whales, seals, fish, migratory fish that use these waters, and whales especially,” said Sandra Meola, policy and communications director for NY/NJ Baykeeper. “The construction of this pipeline is going to deter them with the noise and blunt force if they come in contact with any construction vehicles out on the water.”

Williams-Transco owns a pumping station in Old Bridge, which is where the pipeline would enter the bay. It’s near a Superfund site that’s contaminated with lead from industrial slag. The Baykeeper’s worried construction could stir up sediments, and disrupt the ecosystem and commercial fishing out on the bay.

But Williams-Transco says it already operates 500 miles of pipeline and five compressor stations in New Jersey and that this project would deliver $240 million in economic activity, plus 3,000 jobs, without causing lasting injury.

“New York does receive natural gas from the pipeline system. But you have to understand this is an interstate pipeline system,” said Chris Stockton, a spokesperson for Williams Companies. “The Transco pipeline has been operating safely in the state of New Jersey for decades. It’s something that’s out of sight, out of mind. We are attempting to design this project in a way that is also out of sight, out of mind. People are not going to be interrupted or inconvenienced.”

In fact, FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s preliminary impact statement says, “Construction and operation of the Raritan Bay Loop would not result in significant impacts on aquatic resources in the project area.”

“We’re up against a rubber stamp, essentially. In FERC’s 40-year history they’ve only denied two pipeline
projects, so we are discouraged by that. But we’re going to keep doing everything we can to fight the pipeline,” Meola said.

FERC approved another proposed gas pipeline, PennEast, even though the Department of Environmental Protection denied permits, and that company’s pushing to acquire property.

Acting DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe says the project is under review. The DEP has until June to decide. Meanwhile, these folks will put their feelings on the record for FERC at a hearing Wednesday night.