DEP suspends permits for construction of pipeline in Monmouth, Ocean, Burlington counties

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On July 8, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) sent a letter of suspension to New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG) regarding the company’s Southern Reliability Link (SRL) pipeline, which had been under construction in a portion of Upper Freehold Township.

According to a press release from the New Jersey Sierra Club, the action includes a suspension of permits for the SRL and a stop work order. The Sierra Club said the DEP is re-evaluating the project’s general permits.

“DEP … pulled the permits because of unauthorized and illegal discharge of materials that polluted wetlands and groundwater,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

“NJNG has clearly violated the flood hazard, wetlands and buffer rules and is being held accountable by the DEP. The pipeline construction has caused a catastrophe for the people living along the pipeline route, causing damage to homes.”

In the July 8 letter to NJNG, Diane Dow, director of the DEP’s Division of Land Resources Protection, said the reason for the suspension of NJNG’s general permit under the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act Rule was that from April 9-15, on June 16 and on June 19, NJNG reported to the DEP three separate inadvertent return (IR) events that occurred during horizontal directional drilling (HDD) of a natural gas pipeline and resulted in impacts to freshwater wetlands, transition areas and headwater streams, according to the press release from the Sierra Club.

In addition to the environmental impacts to DEP-regulated areas, the June 19 IR event also caused damage to a private residence in Upper Freehold Township, according to the Sierra Club.

In her letter to the utility, Dow wrote, “Based on these unanticipated, unauthorized environmental impacts to the DEP-regulated wetlands, transition areas and streams, damage to the private residence and the need to protect public health, safety, welfare and the environment, the Department is suspending NJNG’s permit …”

Asked for comment by the Examiner, Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for New Jersey Natural Gas, said on July 9, “NJNG’s environmental response to the inadvertent return events was quick, fully in line with our response and mitigation plans, and conducted with the oversight of DEP officials.

“Under the circumstances and prior to this action by the DEP, NJNG had already voluntarily suspended all HDD (underground drilling) operations.

“Those activities as well as any other activities subject to the DEP permit will remain suspended while we work collaboratively to provide the DEP and the Burlington County Engineer with the information requested.

“In that effort, NJNG immediately engaged an independent HDD consultant following the events last month to review and analyze all remaining HDD locations on the project, to review our risk control measures and identify any enhancements that can be made to these operations,” Roberts said.

“There have already been several serious incidents involving the pipeline construction in Upper Freehold, in Burlington County and in Plumsted Township. … People have been hurt, their properties have been damaged, streams have been polluted and people living along the route are frightened they are next,” Tittel said.

According to the New Jersey Natural Gas website, the Southern Reliability Link “is being developed to support the safe, reliable, resilient distribution of natural gas to our customers.”

“The SRL will provide a major interstate connection between NJNG’s distribution system that serves customers in Ocean, Burlington and Monmouth counties and the interstate pipeline system adjacent to the New Jersey Turnpike.

“By reinforcing the supply of natural gas with a feed from a separate interstate supplier into the southern end of NJNG’s system, the SRL will help mitigate potential customer interruptions, enhance system resiliency and ensure safe, reliable natural gas service for the region,” the company states.

Examiner Managing Editor Mark Rosman contributed to this article.

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