Gasland’s Trojan Horse: DEP Wetland Hearing on Transco Compressor Station in Burlco Exposes Vulnerability of Gas Pipelines

Media Contacts

Environment New Jersey Research and Policy Center

Trenton – Tonight is the first of two hearings regarding DEP’s environmental review of the New Jersey Natural Gas pipeline through Burlington, Monmouth and Ocean Counties and its attendant fossil fuel infrastructure. Tonight’s hearing, starting at 6 p.m. at the Ramada Inn in Bordentown, focuses on the proposed Garden State Expansion Transco compressor station, and its application for freshwater wetlands permits from NJDEP to destroy more than six acres of Chesterfield wetlands. (NOTE: The hearing was cancelled by NJDEP because of overwhelming public turnout, combined with the limited seating of the venue & public safety concerns.)

New Jersey Natural Gas’s Southern Reliability Link (SRL) pipeline (30’’ inches) would attach to the compressor station in Chesterfield, and run 30 miles through the Pinelands National Reserve to the Shore to connect to utilities in Manchester in Ocean County, which would spur additional development in Ocean County. The second hearing, scheduled for Wed. Sept. 7, will focus on the state water permit required by New Jersey Natural Gas from NJDEP to construct its pipeline. (NOTE: This second hearing will also likely be rescheduled as well)

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, released the following statement before tonight’s initial hearing:

“Garden State Expansion’s Transco Compressor Station is an environmental Trojan Horse. Transco has spun its environmental damage as minimal, but the project holds the linchpin to open Central Jersey and the Pinelands to an unprecedented environmental attack from pipelines –  and their infrastructure.

The GSE Transco compressor station is the silent polluter in our backyards that would bring Gasland to Burlington County. The proposal would destroy more than six acres of wetlands on Chesterfield’s Sucker Run and Black Creek, and place a compressor station on filled in wetlands on a site even FERC says is way too small, as well as exacerbate air pollution. NJDEP shouldn’t be a sucker and greenlight this project.

This compressor station could be a vital link to connect the PennEast pipeline to New Jersey Natural Gas’ Southern Reliability Link pipeline. Without this link, there’s no gas for the proposed pipeline, and PennEast is already budgeting 20% of its gas to be diverted to Ocean County.

This is the classic divide and conqueror strategy that the industry has successfully used with their  regulatory allies at FERC. Even after successful litigation two years ago by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and NJ Sierra Club, FERC continues to look at pipelines – and their fossil fuel infrastructure like compressor stations – in total isolation. This is an intentional strategy to dodge the true environmental impact of this massive pipeline project.

NJDEP has the tools necessary to deny the wetlands permit for Transco’s compressor station. It would be effective for DEP to play the childhood game of two truths and a lie. It’s true the NJDEP has the regulatory authority not only to review, but deny projects based on the adherence to the Surface Water Quality Standard’s anti-degradation protections under the federal Clean Water Act. These protections include wetlands permits, which must not violate water quality standards.

It’s also true that our two neighboring states, New York and Connecticut, have used the Clean Water Act and its authority under 401 water quality permits to deny applications from the Constitution Pipeline (this April) and Island East Pipeline (more than a decade ago), which has withstood legal challenge and upheld by a 2008 Second Circuit opinion.

It is false that DEP is powerless to respond to FERC or act independently. However, not according to DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, who testified this May in the Assembly Budget Committee: “They (FERC) are the overall controlling entity on it at the end of the day. They could over-ride anything we could even do from the State of New Jersey. … We can not fight that. If we did reject a pipeline it would end up in court very quickly.”

However, DEP can’t issue a permit that would lead to a violation of the Surface Water Quality Standards, including antidegradtion policies to protect all existing uses.

Transco is also guilty of attempting to put a massive fossil fuel installation on a relatively small parcel of land. Transco wants the meter station, the project boundary and the stormwater infiltration basin to be almost directly in the stream bed of Sucker Run. This is a clear violation of the Clean Water Act and the Surface Water Quality Standards for existing uses because of the impacts on wetlands.

As egregiously, the stormwater basins will be placed in the wetlands, and drain into the wetlands. This is an environmentally deranged idea that Transco was forced into because of the small nature of the site. For this reason alone, the application should be rejected.

Our watersheds and water quality are interwoven in the same manner that Transco’s compressor station is linked to both the PennEast and NJNG Pinelands pipeline. There will be clear environmental damage from Transco’s application, which is egregiously incomplete. DEP can’t be a handmaiden for Transco – the Clean Water Act and the precedent from other states’ action and court decisions is a powerful backstop. DEP must reject this application.”