July 2020, Vol. 247, No. 7

Editor's Notebook

A Little Good News from Back East

By Michael Reed, Editor-in-Chief

The pipeline industry in the U.S. Northeast finally got some positive news on the permitting front, when New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG) received the go-ahead to move forward with construction work on a controversial 30-mile (48-km) section of the Southern Reliability Link (SRL) pipeline in New Jersey.

The high-pressure line is designed to run through Ocean and Monmouth counties – where its sections have already been completed – and Burlington County, where it will connect to a new compressor station in Chesterfield.

I say “finally” got some positive news for obvious reasons. This has not been a particularly good last few years for the region in matters concerning pipeline approvals in the always tricky-to-negotiate Northeast market.

Recently, for example, both New Jersey and New York denied water quality permits for the Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) project, which would have increased gas supply in the Garden State, as well as Pennsylvania and New York, where demand for natural gas is at an all-time high. 

Pipeline developer Williams expressed disappointment in NESE decision, which it said involved “a discrete technical issue with our application for water quality certification,” adding it would not refile the permit applications at this time. 

Closer to home for NJNG, only a couple of weeks earlier the fight over the company’s own Southern Reliability Link (SRL) pipeline, which had hit frequent bumps during much of the five years since the utility received its original approval to build from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, flared up again.

Opponents, who have long maintained the route for the SRL project presents safety concerns because of its proximity to houses and businesses, this time argued, stunningly enough, that the 180,000 Dth-per-day pipeline offered no direct benefit to the community. 

With Burlington County as the focal point – and the only section of the project still not completed – the final hurdle involved a road-opening permit to allow installation to begin beneath two county highways. 

In May 2020, NJNG, which serves more than 500,000 customers primarily within Ocean and Monmouth counties, began drilling beneath the Burlington-Monmouth County border, prompting the Burlington County engineer to issue a stop work order, according to county records. This, even though the utility contended the digging was legal because the land was owned jointly by both counties.   

That problem was laid to rest by the end of the month, with the utility having agreed to pay $12.2 million to compensate for repaving and repair work and other infrastructure improvements related to the project, as well as $1 million to cover damages to property along the county highways. The numerous delays, of course, added to the final price tag.

“NJNG has addressed all outstanding issues that were presented by Burlington County,” utility Spokesman Kevin Roberts said May 22, after the final approvals were granted. “We will continue to work closely with them as construction on the project continues into Burlington County in the next several weeks.” 

A preconstruction meeting with county officials will take place before additional work takes place, with NJNG hoping to have the project in service in 2021.

NJNG did not offer further comment to P&GJ on the process itself, but months earlier Burlington County Engineer Joe Brickley did a reasonably good job of summing up what many people familiar with the process thought by that point.    

“All the things they [NJNG] didn’t want to do, they have agreed to do,” he said, adding there was no legal justification to deny the utility the permits.

This, much to the chagrin of many natural gas distribution companies and contractors, has become an increasingly disturbing trend, and not just in the Northeast.



In the Editor’s Notebook column in the June issue, Kelcy Warren should have been referred to as the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners.

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