A background on Jersey’s latest conservation battle
As he had promised during the election period, Donald Trump advanced efforts to install the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines this past Tuesday by signing two separate executive orders. This action served as a confirmation to many skeptics that environmental protection may be put on the backburner for the next four years as the fossil fuel industry takes the wheel. While many continue to protest the DAPL and Keystone XL pipelines, a smaller yet just as hotly debated fight is occurring in our own back yards: the battle against the South Jersey Gas Pipeline.
The proposed pipeline is part of the South Jersey Gas Cape Atlantic Reliability project and will span 22 miles from Millville to B.L. England power plant in Beesley’s Point, Upper Township. It will provide natural gas to B.L. England, as well as support the existing pipeline infrastructure of Cape May and Atlantic counties.
The proposition to build the South Jersey pipeline is contingent upon a vote casted by members of the Pinelands Commission, who “guides land use, development and natural resource protection programs in the 938,000-acre Pinelands Area of southern New Jersey” according to the agency’s website. The commission only allows infrastructure projects that served the needs of people living inside the Pinelands. As the pipeline merely traverses the protected grounds and does not actually provide any value to Pinelands residents, the proposal was rejected by a 7-7 vote within the committee in 2014. Eight votes were needed for approval.
In 2015, the executive director of the Pinelands Commission stated that a majority rule was not needed for project approval, and after a petition filed by South Jersey Gas against land use regulations set forth by the commission, the project was reopened. The Pinelands Preservation Alliance promptly sued the ruling, and halted construction. Under jurisdiction by the Appellate Supreme Court, the project is again subjected to a majority vote by the Pinelands Commission. A public comment period was opened before the Pinelands Commission casted their vote, and was supposed to end in its ultimate finale January 24, 2017, the date of the final public comment meeting. As hundreds flooded St. Ann’s Catholic Church to express their discontent, the building met capacity and many people were forced away. The Pinelands Commission Agreed to extend the public comment period until February 8, 2017.
The pipeline crosses through the southernmost section of the Pinelands National Reserve. The Pinelands Commission had already once rejected the project due to its apparent lack of usefulness to pinelands residents, which is a need for the commission to approve any infrastructure projects. To reopen the project after it had already been denied, opponents say, is an injustice.
While South Jersey Gas claims that the project will be a productive move in transitioning B.L. England into a cleaner energy plant, natural gas combustion is known to be a primary contributor to global climate change. Natural gas is composed primarily of methane, one of the most dangerous greenhouse gases. In 2014, methane accounted for 16% of global greenhouses emissions. With global temperature rising at alarming rates, the pipeline serves as a complacent alternative to investing in renewable energy sources.
Most pressingly, opponents say the pipeline is a danger to our ground water sources, saying that leaks in the pipeline could potentially pollute the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer. New Jersey’s most precious natural asset, the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer is estimated to hold 17 trillion gallons of freshwater. The aquifer is one of the largest groundwater sources on the east coast, and an ecological imperative for native wetland habitats. If the pipeline were to ever leak, not only would public health be put at risk, but our already suffering wetland communities would suffer greatly.
In lieu of the large crowd rejected from the public meeting on January 24th, the public comment period has been extended to February 8th, 2017. After the public comment period has ended, the South Jersey Gas pipeline proposition will be put to a full vote by the Pinelands Commission. If there is not enough public outcry on this project, the pipeline will be installed and it will be another step backwards for the protection of our natural resources.
To express your concerns, please refer to http://www.pinelandsalliance.org/support/take-action-south-jersey-gas-p/