As a key environmental report on the billion dollar PennEast pipeline project looms, New Jersey’s two United States senators have asked a federal regulator to address a host of concerns already raised by other government agencies.
Democrats Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, in a March 17 letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), highlighted concerns about methane gas, impacts on turtles and bats, and arsenic levels in ground water.
“We are concerned that the environmental impacts are not yet fully understood,” the letter says.
FERC is expected to issue it’s environmental impact statement, or EIS, on the proposed 36-inch wide, 120-mile long natural gas pipeline project on April 7.
“PennEast appreciates the input from New Jersey’s two U.S. Senators and shares in their concerns as it relates to safe construction with minimal environmental impact,” PennEast spokeswoman Pat Kornick said Tuesday.
The pipeline, Kornick said, will be a safe, job-creating project that will save consumers energy costs.
The senators did not publicize their letter, but PennEast opponent ReThink Energy NJ did.
“Senators Booker and Menendez have rightly pointed out that FERC has yet to fully address a host of critical concerns raised by public agencies and independent scientists regarding the risks that PennEast poses to our health, safety and environment,” Tom Gilbert, campaign director of ReThink Energy NJ and the New Jersey Conservation Foundation said.
Gilbert said the question is, will FERC pay attention, “Or will they move ahead with a flawed EIS that fails to evaluate potential contamination of our drinking water, increases in harmful emissions, damage to threatened and endangered species, and other significant environmental impacts.”
FERC Tuesday declined comment on the letter, or allegations made in response to it, that it’s their policy not to comment on matters awaiting a commission decision.
In their letter, the senators highlight:
- the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recommendation that PennEast present plans to mitigate the leakage of methane along the pipeline and outline plans to minimize drilling risks
- the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s request for more in depth habitat surveys for the federally threatened bog turtle and the federally endangered Indiana bat.
- the U.S. Department of Interior’s citing “confusing” and “contradictory” PennEast statements about the risk of arsenic exposure to groundwater, which experts have said could exceed the Surface Water Quality Standard in steam water. The department also wants Penn East to conduct a comprehensive well-sampling plan.
The senators asked that as FERC completes the EIS, the concerns are “thoroughly evaluated and addressed.”
Jim Waltman, executive director of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed, also praised the senators letter.
“The very serious concern that this pipeline could release poisonous arsenic into our groundwater has received only lip service from FERC and PennEast, Waltman said in the ReThink Energy statement. “We applaud the senators for elevating this critical issue. For New Jersey, the pipe stops here.”
Kornick said PennEast has filed, and FERC approved, a comprehensive well-monitoring plan.
And the company hired New Jersey’s leading arsenic expert to conduct “a robust three-month scientific field study that concluded the impacts of PennEast construction would not mobilize naturally occurring arsenic at a level that threatens drinking water supplies.”
“No such study has been conducted that would support the scare tactics and misinformation circulated by opposition groups,” Kornick said.
The pipeline, if built, plans to to move natural gas from the Marcellus Shale region in Luzerne County, Pa. to Hunterdon and Mercer counties in N.J. A connector pipeline will then link it to an existing compressor in West Amwell.