The Truth about Pipeline Companies and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission: Communities, Senators and Members of Congress Speak Out
The Dodd Meacham Farm
On a routine workday in early summer, 2014 — one month before the consortium of gas companies called PennEast, LLC. officially went public to announce their intention to build a 118-mile pipeline to transport fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale in Western Pennsylvania beneath the Delaware River through farms, wetlands, bedrock and preserved land to a terminus in near Trenton, New Jersey — Susan Dodd Meacham received a phone call from her daughter.
“My daughter told me that a man had stopped by,” says Dodd Meacham. “He gave her his card and asked if he could look around the property. She asked, ‘Why?’ And he said it had to do with a proposed gas pipeline.
Luckily, my daughter told him, ‘No.’”
When Dodd Meacham got home, she called the man and learned that, without alerting her or any other landowner, the PennEast consortium had mapped out a route and planned to run a portion of the pipeline through her farm-assessed property in rural Hunterdon County not far from the Delaware River watershed. The Delaware River is one of the nineteen “Great Waters” recognized by America’s Great Waters Coalition, and supplies drinking water to residents in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“He asked again if he could just come look at our land. I told him only if he had a court order in his hand. The conversation ended amicably, but I thought I had made my point.”
The next morning, Dodd Meacham heard a tapping at her door. “There stood the man,” she says, shock still wavering her voice more than two years after the incident.
“He apologized for showing up unannounced and said I had been so nice on the phone that he just wanted to say hello and put a face to a name,” she adds. “I didn’t let him into the house – we stood on the front porch. He looked out over the back meadow, and said, ‘Oh it’s really nice back here. Did your father ever live here?’”
Dodd Meacham was dumbstruck. Her father had died when she was only six years old, shortly after the family had moved into a dilapidated stone grist mill that her mother eventually renovated and in which the family still lives.
“Not only did it stab me as any reference to the loss of my father, but I realized that this man and his company, PennEast, had gone to through county records and looked up details about our property. He must have known when it was purchased, and he knew that my father was deceased. It felt like a gut punch as I realized what a tremendous threat he and PennEast really were and how little regard they had for the community they intended to tear apart. I told the man that, ‘No, my father had never been afforded the honor.’”
When the PennEast representative asked more questions about the property, Dodd Meacham deflected him. “My mother, in complete possession of her mental faculties at age 94, heard the conversation and joined us on the porch. The man said, ‘Hi, you must be Vera.’ My mother remained cool, putting him in his place by saying, ‘I am Mrs. Dodd.’”
He jovially said, ‘Oh, I hear you aren’t happy about the idea of a pipeline.’ And my mother made perfectly certain he understood she wasn’t.
He then looked at me, and said, ‘We aren’t going to have a problem with this, are we?’
And I said, ‘You can tell PennEast they are in for one hell of a fight.”
One Hell of a Fight and What is FERC?
Senator Kip Bateman (R) 16th District, New Jersey &
Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D) 12th District, New Jersey
Flash forward to August, 2016. Two years later, Dodd-Meacham, along with her neighbors in townships along the proposed pipeline route in Pennsylvania and every township along the route in New Jersey, are two years into putting up “one hell of a fight” against a pipeline that mounting evidence shows is not needed.
In addition, fracking, the gas produced from the process of fracking, and the Gold Rush-like proliferation of pipeline projects, have become national environmental issues. In the case of PennEast, questions about its merit and the process to approve it have garnered bi-partisan support in New Jersey from representatives including Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D) and Senator Kip Bateman (R), both of whom have rejected the pipeline.
In addition, fracking, the gas produced from the process of fracking, and the Gold Rush-like proliferation of pipeline projects, have become national environmental issues. In the case of PennEast, questions about its merit and the process to approve it have garnered bi-partisan support in New Jersey from representatives including Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D) and Senator Kip Bateman (R), both of whom have rejected the pipeline.A year ago, Dr. Tullis Onstott, Professor of Geosciences at Princeton University – and in 2007 named one of TIME Magazine’s most influential people in the world – testified that “PennEast pipeline’s proposed path would blast a trench through the heart of a region with the highest arsenic concentration in the state of New Jersey. Onstott explained in detail how the arsenic trapped in the rock beneath the thin soil could be released leading to the loss of potable ground water that supplies rural and semi-rural communities who have no option for gas hook-up and therefore, “none of which would benefit from the fracked gas.”
In spite of Dr. Onstott’s testimony and reports from numerous scientists, the communities’ fight took a dangerous turn when on August 1, at the height of summer vacation season, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), 1200-page Environmental Impact Statement, considered the first crucial step in the approval process for what experts are deeming an unnecessary, fast-tracked addition to an ever-growing pipeline construction boom; and allowing impacted communities only 45 days to respond.
According to FERC’s website: FERC is an independent agency that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil. FERC also reviews proposals to build liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals and interstate natural gas pipelines as well as licensing hydropower projects.
But FERC’s ethics have come into question on local and federal levels. In her own response to an outcry from her constituents over the “enormous shortcomings of FERC’s process,” Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman proposed legislation to toughen FERC oversight and require the agency to examine public need and cumulative impacts of pipeline proposals.
Says Rep. Watson Coleman, “The recent proliferation of new pipeline proposals and their impact on communities raise serious questions about how many of these expensive fossil fuel infrastructure projects are actually needed and calls into question the rigor of FERC’s review process. FERC must enforce a more cautious, holistic approach to considering these projects.”
At the same time, residents and experts began to write their comments on the FERC PennEast comment docket. According to one comment: “The Environmental Impact Statement blatantly ignores Professor Onstott’s Arsenic issues and incorrectly characterizes them as a construction-only activity. The issues identified by Dr. Onstott are on-going arsenic mobilization from the continuing operation of the pipeline. The EIS fails to recognize this and so is missing a vital impact to the community and region in regard to the safety of our drinking water”.
“Under the National Environmental Protection Act, an EIS is required to seriously consider the “No Action Alternative”.
(The No Action Alternative considers the baseline state of what would happen if the project were not constructed. The writer continues, “However, in the PennEast EIS issued by FERC, the No Action Alternative (that could stop the pipeline) is a bare four paragraphs in length. Within those four paragraphs, there is only a single citation made. That citation is to a list of shippers on the project. There is no mention that the majority of shippers are affiliates of the owners, and that FERC has ruled in past proceedings that affiliate shippers carry less weight than contracts with unrelated entities that serve as arms-length transactions.”
The comment goes on to bring up one of the most important points missing from the Environmental Impact Statement: “There is no mention that they (PennEast) are lacking survey permission in over 70% of the route within New Jersey, and that there are strong indications that a certificate would in fact require eminent domain condemnation proceedings to be brought against 70% of the landowners or more.”
Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey Question FERC on a PennEast Connection in Massachusetts
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D) Massachusetts &
Edward J. Markey (D) Massachusetts
Lawmakers and residents of Pennsylvania and New Jersey aren’t alone in questioning FERC’s ability to make informed decisions about the proliferation of pipeline proposals along the Eastern Seaboard and elsewhere through out the U.S.
On July 25, Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren (D) and Edward J. Markey (D) wrote a letter to FERC pointing out that a contractor, Natural Resource Group, LLC (NRG), was hired in February, 2015, by FERC as a third-party contractor to review Spectra’s Atlantic Bridge Pipeline Project, a proposed expansion of its existing Algonquin Gas Pipeline that runs through the Northeast US. At the time NRG was already working directly for Spectra who is a major partner in the PennEast pipeline project.
According to conflict of interest disclosure documents obtained by the website, DeSmog, from FERC through a Freedom of Information Act request, while NRG acknowledged it was working at the time directly for Spectra on other projects, it did not include its work on the proposed PennEast pipeline.
Spectra joined the PennEast consortium in October 2014. And while PennEast refuses to admit it, the PennEast Pipeline has the ability to interconnect to the Algonquin Gas Pipeline, which would boost PennEast’s ability to deliver gas up and down the Eastern Seaboard and not solely for the needs of customers in New Jersey, whom they claim are woefully undersubscribed.
On June 14, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee held a hearing to examine oil and gas pipeline infrastructure and economic, safety and environmental, permitting, construction, and maintenance.
In his testimony, and in response to questions raised by Senator Elizabeth Warren, Jonathan Peress, Director of Air Policy, Environmental Defense Fund, said, “With the magnitude of the new pipeline projects under development in addition to those deployed over the past 10 years, there are signs that a gas pipeline capacity bubble is forming. A capacity bubble could impose unnecessary costs on energy customers for expensive yet unneeded pipeline capacity, and ultimately constrain deployment of lower cost energy sources like wind and solar…“
Gannett Newspaper Editorial in New Jersey Questions the Need for the PennEast Pipeline
On August 1, the Gannett Newspaper chain whose flagship paper is USA TODAY, posted an editorial in their New Jersey papers, saying,
The Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC) has given the controversial PennEast pipeline project thumbs up in its much-anticipated environmental impact statement released last week.
No surprise there. FERC is pretty much in the business of approving pipelines, having never rejected one. So the fact that its assessment of environmental impacts found nothing of any great concern doesn’t mean there aren’t meaningful environmental problems. It just means FERC would prefer to ignore them, or in this case to suggest that potential problems can be easily mitigated with some project adjustments.
Meanwhile, the public has less than two months – the rest of the summer, basically – to digest a report of more than a thousand pages and provide public comment.
This has the feel of a rush job intended more to please PennEast and its partners rather than watching out for the public’s best interest. But regardless, the pipeline remains an unnecessary danger to the state’s drinking water.
Connected to the project is the Southern Reliability Link that would cut through parts of the Pinelands. The project is being promoted as a boon to New Jersey consumers who would have easier and cheaper access to new natural gas supplies coming out of the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. But be wary of such hyperbole. We hear the same thing for every pipeline proposal — more capacity in the state means cheaper energy for us, hooray! But added capacity isn’t always meaningful capacity; at some point companies will merely be competing amongst themselves for available supplies…PennEast has also failed to provide enough information on potential environmental impacts of the pipeline, according to critics of the FERC report.
Assemblywoman Elizabeth Muoio, D-Mercer, has called for an extension in the public comment period. That’s the very least officials can do. Other obstacles remain before the PennEast pipeline becomes a reality. We urge opponents to pursue any available angle to block the project.
Just as important, however, is the broader goal of reining in the proliferation of pipeline proposals across New Jersey as the energy revolution unfolds. Fracking – hydraulic fracturing – has unlocked vast new natural gas and oil reserves, leaving companies scrambling to transport the product. While SOME new lines are in order, all of the proposals collectively would far exceed the need. But the approval process doesn’t properly place the projects in any sort of context; they are considered in relative isolation, making each seem more important independently than it should.
New Jersey lawmakers are pushing for a bill that would toughen standards and mandate some of that additional perspective. We support that movement as well.
If any pipeline is going to threaten our water supply, it better be well worth it. The PennEast project isn’t.
PennEast Responds to Gannett Op-Ed
Two days later, Patricia Kornick, spokesperson for PennEast, volleyed back, “The PennEast Pipeline,” she wrote, “will lower energy costs for families and businesses in every corner of New Jersey, deliver clean, American energy that is better for our environment and create thousands of jobs during construction. One study found the region would have saved nearly $ 1 billion in both electric and gas bills in one recent winter.”
“The winter Kornick continually refers to is the winter of the Polar Vortex in 2014,” says Tom Gilbert, New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJCF) campaign director for Energy, Climate and Natural Resources, “In fact, a recent analysis of actual gas flows during the Polar Vortex shows that several of the five interstate natural gas pipelines serving PJM East (the electric grid operator) never fully utilized their existing capacity, even though spot market gas prices skyrocketed.
The events from January 2014 cannot be used to justify the expansion of additional pipeline infrastructure,” he added, “since policy changes to use existing pipelines more efficiently have already been successful in ensuring a reliable supply of gas.”
In 2006, Joy E. Stocke founded Wild River Review with Kimberly Nagy, an outgrowth of the literary magazine, The Bucks County Writer, of which Stocke was Editor in Chief. In 2009, as their editorial practice grew, Stocke and Nagy founded Wild River Consulting & Publishing, LLC.
With more than twenty-five years experience as a writer and journalist, Stocke works with many of the writers who appear in the pages of Wild River Review, as well as clients from around the world.
In addition, Stocke has shepherded numerous writers into print. She has interviewed Nobel Prize winners Orhan Pamuk and Muhammud Yunus, Pulitzer Prizewinner Paul Muldoon, Paul Holdengraber, host of LIVE from the NYPL; Roshi Joan Halifax, founder of Upaya Zen Center; anthropologist and expert on end of life care, Mary Catherine Bateson; Ivonne Baki, President of the Andean Parliament; and Templeton Prizewinner Freeman Dyson among others.
In 2006, along with Nagy, Stocke interviewed scientists and artists including former Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman and Dean of Faculty, David P. Dobkin for the documentary Quark Park, chronicling the creation of an award-winning park built on a vacant lot in the heart of Princeton, New Jersey; a park that united art, science and community.
She is president of the Board of Directors at the Cabo Pulmo Learning Center, Cabo Pulmo, Baja Sur, Mexico; and is a member of the Turkish Women’s International Network.
In addition, Stocke has written extensively about her travels in Greece and Turkey. Her memoir, Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses & Saints, based on more than ten years of travel through Turkey, co-written with Angie Brenner was published in March 2012. Her cookbook, Tree of Life: Turkish Home Cooking will be published in March, 2017 by Quarto Books under the Burgess Lea Press imprint . Stocke and Brenner are currently testing recipes for a companion book, which will feature Anatolian-inspired mezes from around the world.
Stocke’s essay “Turkish American Food” appears in the 2nd edition of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America (OUP, 2013). The volume won both International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) for Beverage/Reference/Technical category, 2014; and the Gourmand Award for the Best Food Book of the Year, 2014.
She is the author of a bi-lingual book of poems, Cave of the Bear, translated into Greek by Lili Bita based on her travels in Western Crete, and is currently researching a book about the only hard-finger coral reef in Mexico on the Baja Sur Peninsula. She has been writing about environmental issues there since 2011.
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with a Bachelor of Science in Broadcast Journalism from the Agriculture Journalism School where she also received a minor of Food Science, she participated in the Lindisfarne Symposium on The Evolution of Consciousness with cultural philosopher, poet and historian, William Irwin Thompson. In 2009, she became a Lindisfarne Fellow.
Works by Joy E. Stocke in this Edition
AIRMAIL – LETTERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
AIRMAIL – VOICE FROM SYRIA
ARTS – ART
COLUMNS – THE MYSTIC PEN
FOOD & DRINK – ANATOLIAN KITCHEN
FREYMAN & PETERSON- Your Life is a Book: How to Craft and Publish Your Memoir
LITERATURE – BOOK REVIEWS
LITERATURE – ESSAYS
LITERATURE – MEMOIR
LITERATURE – POETRY
LIVE FROM THE NYPL
The Euphoria of Ignorance: Being Jewish, Becoming Jewish, The Paradox of Being Carlo Ginzburg
Fountain of Curiosity: Paul Holdengraber on Attention, Tension and Stretching the Limits of Conversation at the New York Public Library
Paul Holdengraber – The Afterlife of Conversation
2013 – Three Questions: Festival Director Jakab Orsos talks about Art, Bravery, and Sonia Sotomayor
Critical Minds, Social Revolution: Egyptian Activist Nawal El Saadawi
INTERVIEW – Laszlo Jakab Orsos: Written on Water
Tonight We Rest Here: An Interview with Poet Saadi Youssef
Georgian Writer David Dephy’s Second Skin
On the High Line: Diamonds on the Soles of Our Shoes
Car Bombs on the West Side, Journalists Uptown
New York City – Parade of Illuminations: Behind the Scenes with Festival Director Jakab Orsos
The Pen Cabaret 2008: Bowery Ballroom — Featuring..
Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses and Saints
Daring Collaborations: Rolex and LIVE from the NYPL at the New York Public Library Composing a Further Life: with Mary Catherine Bateson
WRR@LARGE: From the Editors – UP THE CREEK
Up the Creek: Volume 1, Number 1
Up the Creek: Volume 1, Number 2.5
Up the Creek: Volume 1, Number 3.3
Up the Creek: Number 4.4
Up the Creek: Beautiful Solutions
Up the Creek: Blind Faith, July 2009
Up the Creek: Create Dangerously
Up the Creek: What Price Choice?
Up the Creek: Before and After: September 11, 2001
Up the Creek: Candle in a Long Street
Up the Creek: Crossing Cultures: Transcending History
Up the Creek: Man in the Mirror; A Map of the World
Up the Creek: Stories and the Shape of Time
Up the Creek: The Divine Road To Istanbul
Up the Creek: What It Means to Yearn
WRR@LARGE – WILD COVERAGE
UNESCO World Heritage Site Under Threat of Mega-Devlopment Sparks International Protests
The Other Side Of Abu Ghraib — Part One: The Detainees’ Quest For Justice
The Other Side of Abu Ghraib – Part Two: The Yoga Teacher Goes to Istanbul