Environmental groups argue against pipeline application

DEP currently recommending approval

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An application by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline, Inc., to draw water out of existing wells so the company can lay pipeline for the Northeast Upgrade Project was met with some stiff opposition at a public hearing this week,

On Monday morning, The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection heard public comments at a public hearing in Hardyston regarding five dewatering applications filed with the state in May.

The overall objective of the project is to transport natural gas from the wellheads in Pennsylvania to destinations in New Jersey.

These applications were to dewater — to take water out of existing wells and trenches so the company to excavate and lay a natural gas pipeline.

The applications were for Wantage and Montague Townships in Sussex County, West Milford Township and Ringwood Boro in Passaic County, and Mahwah Township in Bergen County.

The applications only dealt with building a transport pipeline. There is no drilling or extraction of natural gas in northern New Jersey at the present time. The natural gas which is to be transported through New Jersey is being extracted from the Marcellus shale bed in Pennsylvania, using the controversial technique called hydraulic fracturing — “fracking” for short.

Joseph Leary presided over the hearing and the Department of Environmental Protection was represented by Erin Schumacher. The DEP is at present recommending approval of all five permits.

Tennessee Gas Pipeline was represented by Melissa Dettling, who explained why the water needed to be removed to aid in the pipeline construction process. She said the water would be returned to the environment, and that water would be trucked in to aid in the drilling process.

Nearly all who participated in the subsequent discussion urged the denial of the permits to Tennessee Gas Pipeline. Organizations whose representatives spoke out against the permits included the New Jersey Sierra Club, the Northjersey Pipeline Walkers, the Highlands Coalition, and the Franciscan Response to Fracking.

Margaret Wood of West Milford Township, a former aerospace engineer representing the Lakeland Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, presented a detailed argument against the permits, citing existing regulations and tying the pipeline construction to the controversial fracking method of gas extraction and to the general problem of climate change. She said, “The increase in the number of storms and the increase in intensity of storms is due to global warming...When you look at the downed trees, the flooded lands, the destroyed life, the contamination of the water that occurs after a hurricane, you must see that global warming will destroy us...The contents of the pipelines is methane gas. Methane gas is an extremely dangerous contributor to global warming. Methane is 72 times worse than mere carbon dioxide in its greenhouse gas heat trapping ability. These pipelines will leak enough gas to cumulatively impact global warming, thus increasing the number of hurricanes and the destructive power of each hurricane.”

Besides Melissa Dettling, there were two speakers in favor of granting the permit, both trade union officials whose members are employed in the pipeline construction project. They were Robert Stevralia, business representative of the Heavy and General Construction Laborers’ Local Union No. 472, and Cesar Gamio of the Operating Engineers. Both argued that Tennessee Gas Pipeline is a good employer and that the pipeline project would provide jobs and contribute to the tax revenues of the state and local communities. Stevralia urged that the community make Tennessee Gas Pipeline “a partner rather than an enemy.” He also blamed some of the environmental problems on state regulations that prevented Tennessee Gas Pipeline from restoring the environment as efficiently as citizens would like.

Aaron Stemplewicz, a staff attorney for the Delaware Riverkeepers, addressed problems in the language of the permit applications as grounds for denial. He also pointed to a record of past violations on the part of Tennessee Gas Pipeline in Pennsylvania and other states.

The public comment period will be open for written comment for an additional 15 days. It will close on December 18, after which time the Department of Environmental Protection will make its decision on whether or not to grant the dewatering permits to Tennessee Gas Pipeline.

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