Opinion: Grassroots efforts helped stop Penn East pipeline project

I am pleased that today I can remove the “Protect Our Land – Stop Penn East” sign that has been posted in our front yard for over seven years.

In a valiant David versus Goliath-like effort, our local representatives, environmentalists, statisticians, local businesses, farmers, children and concerned citizens banded together to accomplish what they knew to be right.

Over seven years ago, the Penn East Pipeline Company presented their proposed pipeline at the Hopewell Valley Central High School. At that time it was stated that the 30-inch diameter pipeline (which was shortly thereafter increased in volume by almost 50%) would bring all the natural gas that was critically and imminently needed for the residents of New Jersey.

There were many thoughtful questions that were mostly answered with vagaries. Some residents were surprised to hear Penn East’s assertion of the imminent gas shortages that were sure to create energy blackouts in our own communities. And then there was the pitch that the pipeline would bring lower priced natural gas to consumers.

Penn East created and spun all this hyperbole by declaring that it had already sold contracts for the gas, so of course there must be demand. It turned out that the contracts were with the individual energy companies that own Penn East.

It was clear from the get-go that this pipeline was not providing needed service to New Jersey residents.

Citizens then created the grassroots awareness that caught the attention of politicians, the media and other concerned citizens who sought to help protect neighbors’ properties, public spaces and waterways from the deleterious impacts that would come from installing the pipeline, and worst of all – one that was not needed. People realized just how unconscionable, unfair, and harmful this could be.

And the more closely it was examined, the worse the scenario looked.

Projections for demand from Penn East were in stark contrast to U.S. Energy Administration figures. Their environmental impact information was incomplete, understated, and in some cases, just unanswered.

Yet the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, packed with former energy industry executives, went on to issue certificates of condemnation for properties along the pipeline.

The New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel denounced the project by explaining the delivery charges (including the cost of the pipeline) would be passed on to ratepayers, and that even if the cost of the gas itself turned out to be cheaper, that it didn’t mean that gas bills would be cheaper.

In short, all analytical scrutiny of the pipeline that was made absent of special interests lead to the same conclusion: the pipeline is unneeded and might create environmental risks if built. And that doesn’t even consider subjective concerns such as infringement of citizens’ rights to their continued enjoyment of their own property.

There are many people to thank – tenacious citizens of our community, the watchdogs for all our liberties. I am very grateful to all those who were involved in this battle – citizens who worked hard, have been thoughtful and strategic, and cared enough about sinking this project to help protect everyone in our community.

Michael Pressel