The proposed PennEast underground natural gas pipeline is 114 miles long, three feet wide, and much larger in its potential impact than its physical size. The company that wants to build the pipeline and its opponents agree that the pipeline has huge implications, but that’s where their agreement ends.

The company says that the conduit, if approved, would carry natural gas from a gathering station in the Marcellus Shale “fracking” region in Pennsylvania to markets in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. The proposed pipeline runs from northeastern Pennsylvania and connects with an existing Transco pipeline in Mercer Meadows, where Blackwell Road meets Federal City Road just north of Lawrenceville.

PennEast says the construction project would give a boost to the economy by creating jobs and lowering the price of natural gas in the region. On Monday, February 9, the company released a report by Drexel University backing up this view. The report said that during the construction of the pipeline, it would create about 12,000 jobs and $740 million in wages and an overall economic impact of $1.2 billion. After 2017, that number would fall to about 98 workers needed to maintain the pipeline.

“In addition, the possibility for increased income derived from potentially lower energy bills could induce spending in the regional economy and spur an even larger economic impact,” the study said “These savings will have the same economic effect as an increase in disposable income.”

Environmental groups say that the economic benefits would come at an unacceptable cost to the landscape.

The New Jersey Conservation Foundation has come out against the pipeline and vowed to intervene in the federal permitting process for it.

The group called for a moratorium on “any and all permitting for the PennEast Pipeline unless and until there is a demonstrated and proven compelling public need; a comprehensive plan that takes into account all historic, cultural, and natural resources; and a complete alternatives analysis which includes non-pipeline alternatives.”

The foundation noted the pipeline would cross through parts of Hunterdon and Mercer counties, impacting about 50 parcels of preserved farmland and open space totaling 3,377 acres.

“The PennEast proposal jeopardizes the tremendous public investment in preserving land and critical drinking water supplies in New Jersey,” said Maureen Ogden, a former state Assemblywoman and current NJ Conservation board member.

“Routing this line through preserved lands and across dozens of tributaries to the Delaware River runs counter to long-held land preservation policies across all levels of government, setting a terrible precedent,” said Ogden.

“The lack of any comprehensive planning for pipelines, and the sheer proliferation of proposals impacting New Jersey, made it imperative for the NJ Conservation board to register its opposition,” said Bradley Campbell, a former state Department of Environmental Protection commissioner, former regional administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and current NJ Conservation board member.

Michele S. Byers, executive director of the foundation, noted the PennEast project was one of several gas and oil pipelines currently being planned for New Jersey. The Diamond East pipeline would follow a parallel route several miles to the east, while the Pilgrim Oil pipeline would carry shale oil that originated in North Dakota from Albany, New York, to Linden, crossing Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Essex, and Union counties; and two natural gas pipelines, by South Jersey Gas, and NJ Natural Gas, are planned for south Jersey.

“The route of the proposed Penn­East pipeline targets preserved farms and natural areas — properties that were protected for their soil quality, food production value, drinking water and the wildlife habitat. Protections on these lands are supposed to be permanent. As in forever,” Byers wrote.

Byers is not alone in her opposition to the pipeline. According to press reports, county officials, several state legislators and local legislative bodies have said they were against the PennEast project. The Hopewell Township Council passed a resolution opposing the pipeline.

However, approval of the project rests not in the hands of local governing bodies, but in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing about the project on Wednesday, February 25, at 6 p.m. at the West Trenton Ballroom, 40 West Upper Ferry Road, Ewing. A second hearing will take place the next day at the same time in Hampton at the Grand Colonial, 86 Route 173, off Route 78.

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