New Jersey DEP denies permits sought for NESE pipeline project; Williams Company has no plans to refile

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) rejected the permits sought by Williams Transco to build its Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) Project, which included a fracked gas pipeline into Raritan Bay and a large compressor station in Franklin Township.

The action follows the decision on May 15 by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration to reject the New York segment of the project.

The Williams Company operates the Transco pipeline, a 10,000-mile interstate transmission pipeline system that transports much of the natural gas consumed in the northeastern United States. The system includes more than 50 compressor facilities and currently features more than 500 miles of pipe and five compressor facilities in New Jersey, according to information provided by Williams regarding the NESE Project.

The NESE Project is a proposed $1 billion enhancement of existing Transco infrastructure in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York that includes a proposed new compressor facility in Franklin Township, known as Station 206. The proposal included two natural gas-fired turbine compressor units with a combined output of 32,000 horsepower.

The preferred location was a 52-acre tract approximately 1 mile south of the intersection of routes 27 and 518; the 16-acre site would be surrounded by a wooded buffer, according to the company.

Residents from the region surrounding the Franklin compressor station were concerned about air quality, noise, marine life in the Raritan Bay and the safety of the 1,000-plus residents who live in the blast radius.

On May 15, the NJDEP’s Division of Land Use Regulation released a statement stating the NESE Project does not comply with the Freshwater Wetland Protection Act, and denied the associated Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permit, Flood Hazard Area Individual Permit, Waterfront Development In-Water Individual Permit, Water Quality Certificate, Waterfront Development Upland Individual Permit, Coastal Wetland Individual Permit and Water Quality Certificate.

“This is a big victory after fighting four year, Williams Transco’s permits for NESE were rejected. Gov. [Phil] Murphy and the DEP stood up for the environment by denying the permits for this dangerous pipeline. This a big win for climate change and a big blow for the battle against fracking. Since New York also denied it, this is a one-two punch against this project and may be a knockout,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, in a prepared statement.

“The proposed fossil fuel project would cut through the already polluted and sensitive Raritan Bay and the New York Bay. An explosion or leak from their proposed compressor station could threaten communities and destroy important habitat while adding even more pollution. Even though New York and New Jersey denied the fossil fuel project, Transco may still come back. However, given how strong both state denial were I doubt it would ever get approved.

“Governors Cuomo and Murphy denied the 401 Water Quality Certificate, which is critical. Even if Transco came back and sued, they would have a hard time in court. There is precedent when New York denied the 401 Water Quality Certificate for the Constitution Pipeline it was upheld in federal court. New York and New Jersey rejected the permits because the pipeline would impact water quality and aquatic life. The pipeline could carry and release contaminated stormwater and sediment into the environment and both bodies of water and disturb contaminated sites. This project will mean more gas and more pressure, increasing the chances of an accident.

“This is a huge victory for the people in South Brunswick and Franklin Township who have been fighting the compressor station for the past four years. It’s also an important win for the people living near the Raritan Bay where Transco’s pipeline would cut through. Transco may move the project further north but we will be there fighting them every step of the way, no matter what. When you are fighting a big gas company, it’s like David against Goliath, but sometimes David wins, and that today was that win.

“It’s important that the DEP rejected Williams Transco’s permits. Transco will destroy critical wetlands for their compressor station and pipeline, which will be a disaster waiting to happen. New York doesn’t want the pipeline and neither does New Jersey. It’s clear that this project would be bad for the environment and water quality. This is the fourth time NJDEP rejected these permits. Four strikes, you’re out! Hopefully this will be the last time once and for all. Finally, after four years, we have a huge win,” Tittel said in the statement.

Joseph Camarota, South Brunswick’s deputy mayor, said in an interview that the past four years were “a real struggle” but this news comes as “a victory.”

He said the collaborative effort to fight the project included grassroots organizations, the mayors and councils of South Brunswick and Franklin, the county freeholder board, state legislators of the 16th District, and Bonnie Watson Coleman.

“These people worked every day for four years to fight this. It’s unbelievable, the extraordinary effort, the dedication, the commitment,” he said.

However, he did pose the question – we have won the battle, but we have we won the war?

“Right now everybody is really happy, really excited, but there is a sense of, what is the next step?” he said, noting that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) could still play a role in the future of the project.

However, he still called the permit denial “rewarding” and gives residents “hope,” especially during the constant bad news heard during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“After almost four years, an inspiring mobilization of grassroots activists and local residents in Central Jersey won a tremendous victory against a multi-billion-dollar fossil fuel company,” Matt Smith, state director of Food & Water Action, said in a statement on May 16 after the NJDEP’s ruling was released. “By rejecting this dirty, dangerous and unnecessary pipeline project, Gov. [Phil] Murphy has protected the health and safety of these communities, the remarkable recovery of the Raritan Bay, and has shown that he is committed to his administration’s climate goals. The recovery from the COVID pandemic must prioritize public health while putting thousands of people to work. We can do both with a deep commitment to clean energy from the governor. To build the future we need, Gov. Murphy must demonstrate this same leadership by rejecting all new fossil fuel projects.”

Williams Transco has 30 days to request a hearing in New York and New Jersey.

Laura Creekmur, vice president of Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility for Williams, provided the following statement.

“We are disappointed with the decisions of New York and New Jersey to deny the NESE project’s permits. While we continue to believe in the fundamentals of this project, we will not refile in New Jersey or New York at this time. The decision to pause this important infrastructure project is unfortunate for the region as the design and construction would have generated valuable economic activity in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York and would have directly and indirectly supported more than 3,000 jobs during the construction period.

“Natural gas remains a critical part of our country’s energy mix that creates affordability for utility customers and ensures reliability while renewables scale. Williams is committed to meeting the demand for a clean alternative to heating oil and diesel, and we are prepared to deliver reliable and affordable natural gas to meet the clean energy needs in the areas in which we operate.”

Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@newspapermediagroup.com.