Katelyn Armbruster: PennEast Pipeline

A portion of a newly proposed pipeline is expected to run near Bethlehem’s drinking water resources in the Pocono Mountains. The PennEast Pipeline Company, a partnership of six energy companies, has submitted a formal application to FERC for a proposed 118- mile pipeline that would start in Luzerne County, PA and make its way to Mercer County, NJ. Hundreds of comments were sent to FERC on the PennEast proposal from the pre-filing stage beginning in October 2014 through their formal application submission in September 2015. More than 1,500 parties filed as intervenors, requesting a formal role in proceedings with privileges of appearing at hearings and participating in appeals (Skrapitz, 2015, November 3).

The formal application closed the first round of public comment, but a second round will begin once FERC completes a draft EIS, expected in early 2016. Tetra Tech, a private contracting firm will prepare the EIS under FERC’s supervision. The EIS is paid for by PennEast (Kraus, 2014). But according to some environmental groups, there is a conflict of interest as Tetra Tech reaps profits from oil and gas industries in addition to serving the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an advocacy group for fracking (Bresswein, 2015).

This isn’t the only controversy over the way FERC does business, and more voices are sounding the alarm for a transparent democratic process. One controversial matter is the ”rubber stamp” approach FERC takes on evaluating pipeline proposals, as reviews of EIS’s rarely take precedence over the economic benefits and most pipelines are approved despite environmental risks. Another point of contention is the “tolling order”, essentially a delay FERC issues to extend their decision on appeals which have lasted until pipelines being contested were already in the ground (Phillips, 2015). Most alarming is FERC’s approval of pipeline segments, instead of reviewing the pipeline in its entirely like it did in the case of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline, which was found to have violated federal law (Colaneri, 2014).

The issue with looking over cumulative effects is what is triggering most citizens to speak up, which leaves the question of how a network of drilled well-pads and pipelines will impact the state as a whole. Citizens are suspicious of FERC evading adequate environmental review and as many as 2,800 users are subscribed for updates on the Stop the PennEast Pipeline page on Facebook. It will be interesting to see how FERC evaluates the PennEast EIS as environmentalists warn of the potential impacts. The current pipeline pathway traverses 60 bodies of water, 33 wetland areas, several archeological sites and agricultural buildings, as well as conservation and protected areas (Kraus, 2014).