Letter to the Editor: What You Should Know About the Pipeline

To the Editor:

There’s a lot of talk, lately, about the proposed PennEast pipeline which would pump fracked gas from Pennsylvania through northern New Jersey, Hunterdon County and Hopewell to points beyond. Whether you are Republican or Democrat, have an oil furnace or solar panels, are a business owner or union laborer, ride a bicycle or drive an SUV, live in a mansion or sod hut, we can all agree: the proposed PennEast pipeline is bad for Hopewell Valley.

PennEast is a private company. Its investors are not shelling out a billion dollars in an effort to reduce our fuel bills. They expect to make money, as investors in any project should. In order to do that, the six companies that comprise PennEast (AGL Resources, NJR Pipeline Company, Public Service Enterprise Group, South Jersey Industries, Spectra Energy Partners, and UGI Energy Services) want to make the biggest return possible. That’s what capitalism is all about.

Sadly, U.S. Northeast gas prices do not exist in a vacuum. Gas prices are subject to the fluctuation of the the global market, as we have seen lately with oil prices. Flooding the market with natural gas from all over the country would drive domestic prices down. This increases the chances that the Marcellus gas will be exported. In fact, the most profitable place for them to sell their gas is overseas where it could fetch as much as four times the price it could here. With a brand new liquification facility on the Chesapeake, accessible by hooking up with an existing Transco pipeline here in Hopewell Valley, it will be very convenient to supply customers in Europe, India, Japan or China.

A lot of homeowners would like to trade their oil furnaces for natural gas. This is not going to happen as a result of the PennEast pipeline. PennEast representatives have said from the start that they will not add any new lines or hook-ups here.

Many Hopewell Valley residents are concerned about the safety of oil trains that currently run through the valley. Some would like to see the pipeline replace the oil trains as they feel like the pipeline would be a safer alternative. Oil trains are dangerous. The fear of an oil train accident is real. It seems they’re in the news every day. Pipelines are dangerous, too. The explosion in Ewing is still fresh in all our minds. This pipeline would be much bigger than the residential line that exploded in Ewing, and although we wouldn’t see the danger every day as we do the oil trains, the potential danger of the pipeline will be ever-present nonetheless.

Unfortunately, this is not a trade-off. The “natural” gas that will be pumped through these pipelines is not going to replace the oil on the trains. If PennEast is built, Hopewell will have both oil on trains AND another pipeline through the valley.

Many say that natural gas is better for the environment than coal or oil. It is true that natural gas burns cleaner than coal or oil, but when you take into account the environmental impact of fracking, it very well may be much worse. Fracking creates a whole host of problems: pumping chemicals into the ground to extract the gas, depletion of ground water, pollution of streams and rivers, release of methane, etc. There are many sources of energy that are much cleaner including solar, wind and geothermal. These sources would supply clean, reliable energy and local jobs. The PennEast pipeline would create temporary jobs for transient workers. Why not invest $1 billion in safe, clean energy and jobs here?

Some folks believe that the damage caused by the pipeline will only be temporary. It’s true that laying this pipeline won’t take an eternity. However, it would open up the possibility for more pipelines to be added to this the right-of-way. This could go on forever. Experts say that Marcellus shale’s gas supply could peak in as little as 5 years and be completely exhausted within 30-50 years. Then the PennEast pipeline would sit, empty and decaying, until its eventual collapse. Is a damaged environment and derelict pipeline the legacy we want to leave for the next generation?

The environmental damage this pipeline would cause to the Sourlands is permanent and undeniable. The proposed PennEast pipeline would invade the habitats of threatened and endangered species protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act, such as the bald eagle, the wood turtle, the long tailed salamander, the Indiana bat, the American Kestrel, and various plants and other animals protected by federal and state law. Sixteen plant species that are either endangered or of special concern in New Jersey have been documented in the region to date. Over 90 percent of the Sourland Region is habitat for threatened and endangered species.

Trees and perennials cannot be replanted in the right-of-way. This means that the pipeline would cut a permanent 125’ swath through the forest. The Sourland Mountain is Central New Jersey’s last and only contiguous forest. Fragmenting the forest is bad for many reasons. For example, the more forest we cut down and the more forest edge we create with roads or pipelines, the less birds we have migrating and breeding here. Birds need trees that touch, so they can hide themselves and their young from predators. Birds eat bugs. The less birds there are, the more bugs there will be. More bugs mean less plants or more insecticide on yards and farmers’ fields and in our water supply.

The forest edge is a deer’s favorite place. More forest edges mean more deer. We already have 12 times more deer than our forest can sustain. They eat our crops, harbor deer ticks, and cause car accidents. Deer cost New Jersey residents tens of millions of dollars each year in landscape and crop damage, in addition to Lyme disease and motor vehicle accidents (Deer are now the second-largest cause of automobile accidents in New Jersey, trailing only drunken driving).

Blasting through the Sourland Mountain will release arsenic into our water supply. According to Professor Tullis Onstott, Dept. of Geosciences, Princeton University, “The proposed PennEast pipeline cuts right through the arsenic hot spot where it can do the most damage to the drinking water supplies of the inhabitants.” The arsenic that would be released would also run into streams, and that would impact drinking water downstream as well.

Some say the environment is not as important as the economy, jobs or maintaining our way of life. If we lose some endangered plants or animals, many people won’t notice. If we have to spray a little more bug-killer or buy drinking water in bottles, it’s a small price to pay for progress. It’s really much more.

Preserving the environment is key to maintaining and improving our way of life. New Jersey taxpayers thought so when they paid to preserve the land that this private company would take for its own financial gain. This is not acceptable, even if you believe that this pipeline would only damage that land a little. This pipeline is not a road or a bridge being built by our government for the people. This is a source of transport for a private company’s product on its way to market.

New Jersey is the Garden State. Our farms have been a source of pride and livelihood for centuries. The proposed PennEast pipeline would damage farmland, reduce or restrict access, and reduce yield for many years. It cannot ever be planted to orchards, vineyards or even asparagus. It cannot be farmed organically. Farmers operate on a very small margin already. The impact of the PennEast pipeline on their livelihood – and our food supply – could be devastating. All land, homes and businesses on and around the pipeline will be worth less. This will impact the owners of those properties and our overall tax revenue. So, folks that were hoping for their fuel bills to go down will surely see their taxes rise instead, as a result of the PennEast pipeline.

In summary, the proposed PennEast pipeline would be built by a private company to transport their gas from Pennsylvania to somewhere else. This is not a project to serve the greater good. It will not create local jobs. It will not help the environment. It will not replace our rusty oil furnaces. In fact, this project will not benefit our community at all.

Laurie Cleveland
Hopewell, NJ 08525

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