PennEast shelves plan to build pipeline on public lands in New Jersey

120 miles long, with terminus in Mercer

If built, the pipeline would pump natural gas about 120 miles from the Marcellus Shale field in northeastern Pennsylvania, under the Delaware River by Hunterdon County, and finally to a terminal in Mercer County. PennEast has said the pipeline would ensure the continued supply of cheap gas to New Jersey consumers, but opponents have argued the state is already well-supplied with natural gas, and so the pipeline is not needed.

In Pennsylvania, the company in August dropped eminent-domain suits against 70 landowners, saying it was “not prudent” to complete planned acquisitions.

Critics including Gilbert attacked the project’s “self-dealing contracts” which he said are based on its own stakeholders agreeing to buy the gas rather than on a demonstrated public need. He said courts are taking a harder look at pipeline companies’ claims that their projects are actually needed.

The decision not to build the pipeline on public land surprised many observers given the Supreme Court’s ruling less than three months ago that PennEast did indeed have the right to condemn the state lands, reversing an appeals court ruling, and handing a major victory to the company.

“It is surprising,” said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. “They were given the green light, they asked for permission, and then clearly have backed off on that request.”

Potosnak welcomed the company’s decision not to use public lands but argued that it could refile to exercise its eminent-domain rights at any time. “It is not a done deal, no one should be misled by that,” he said.

Jeff Tittel, former director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, predicted it will now be “extremely difficult” for PennEast to find enough private land in New Jersey on which to build the pipeline. He said the company appears to have accepted that it would not get the permits it needed from New Jersey, and perhaps has been worn down by public opposition over the past seven years.

“My sense is that they thought it wasn’t worth the battle,” said Tittel, who opposed the project from the start. “This is important news. It either means they are going to try to reroute it, or it’s going to go away. If you can slow it down, you can eventually stop it. This is one more step towards it not happening.”

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