A Wyomissing-based company’s ongoing efforts to obtain agency approvals to build a natural gas pipeline through eastern Pennsylvania got a revised schedule this week which delays the potential final go-ahead for the project.
PennEast Pipeline Co. wants to build the 118-mile natural gas pipeline and needs approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The company announced the project in August 2014 and wants to begin construction next year.
This week, FERC sent a revised schedule for reviewing the pipeline to PennEast, pushing the date of issuance of the final environmental impact statement from Dec. 16 to Feb. 17, 2017. In April, FERC made the first revision to the timeline for completing the statement.
FERC also sent the company a request for 46 sets of new data and asked for more than 30 corrections to the application to build the pipeline. In a letter dated Nov. 7, FERC told the company it has 20 days to comply with the request.
Other federal and state agencies have been weighing in on the impact of the pipeline throughout the approval process.
In documents released Sept. 12 by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services, each agency raised concerns about the effects of construction the pipeline could bring to streams and waterways, threatened and endangered species and other environmental elements.
The pipeline would start in Luzerne County and go through Carbon and Northampton counties and into western New Jersey, ending in Hopewell Township, Mercer County.
“From PennEast’s perspective, an additional 60 days for FERC to finalize its final review is not surprising, particularly since PennEast, in its response to landowner and agency input, recently made 33 route modifications to minimize environmental impact,” said Patricia Kornick, spokeswoman for PennEast Pipeline.
These modifications are for 26 areas in Pennsylvania and seven in New Jersey, she said.
“While PennEast welcomed the initial timeline from December, numerous responsible schedules take into account numerous variables,” Kornick said. “We still anticipate PennEast Pipeline being operational in the second half of 2018.”
However, the revised schedule provides further evidence the pipeline is not needed, according to the leader of a New Jersey-based nonprofit opposed to the project.
“They continue to try to make changes, but these changes do very little to address the real, glaring criticisms that have been leveled against this project,” said Tom Gilbert, campaign director for New Jersey Conservation Foundation in Far Hills, N.J. “It’s window dressing, but these route changes don’t come close to solving the problem.
“They don’t come close to raising the concerns of the [various agencies]. It will be difficult for PennEast to respond to and deal with those concerns.”
Gilbert said he would not be surprised if PennEast experiences further delays, particularly since some species which need to be studied as part of the new request for data cannot be identified until next summer.
Kornick said the pipeline could be built while minimizing environmental impact.
“PennEast is extremely confident in the outcome of this process,” she said.
Natural gas essentially powers the economy for years to come, Kornick said.
“Natural gas, it literally fuels the quality of life for most families,” she said. “It also makes the region more attractive to move there and in some cases, expand.”
She said the pipeline could benefit tens of thousands of businesses and people.
Gilbert said the pipeline only serves the gas companies affiliated with PennEast and that the delays are a bad sign of growing problems for this project.