FERC Approves Spectra’s Natural Gas Pipeline as Anti-Pipeline Groups Debate How to Proceed


The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved Spectra Energy’s proposed natural gas pipeline last night, bringing an end to the two-and-a-half year long fight between the Texas-based energy company and local officials, environmental organizations, and grassroots groups determined to prevent what they see as a “disaster” waiting to happen.

The gas pipeline, which Spectra says will be among the safest in the country, will rush 800,000 dekatherms of natural gas per day under Jersey City in order to bring energy to New York City, despite environmental groups arguing the energy is not needed. The effort to fight the pipeline’s approval was a rare instance in Jersey City politics when residents and its often divided governing body coalesced for a cause. Still, many construction workers, in need of jobs due to the slowing development in the area, were a definite, if small, local voice supporting the pipeline.

“The Certificate comes after a comprehensive, multi-year review of the NJ — NY Expansion Project,” said Marylee Hanley, Spokeswoman for Spectra Energy, in a statement. However, groups opposed to the pipeline have often called into question just how independent this review actually was.

Although the pipeline was granted, FERC issued a number of conditions largely concerned with preventing Spectra from deviating from their announced plan without further approval. Hanley refrained from addressing these conditions until they could be further reviewed.

“We remain committed to safely constructing this critically needed pipeline and look forward to a timely notice to proceed,” she continued. “We will continue to cooperate with the community and appropriate regulatory agencies throughout the construction process as we work on a project that will create jobs, offer environmental benefits and lower energy costs throughout the NJ / NY region.”

Of course, groups opposed to the pipeline do not see Spectra as ever having “cooperate[d] with the community,” and further call into question the supposed “environmental benefits.” Just last week, Eastern Environmental law center attorney William “BJ” Schulte filed a motioned to add into the record additional environmental concerns stemming from a new study that suggests the intense pressure of the pipeline will bring the carcinogenic gas radon into people’s homes before it can safety decompose.

Despite being disappointed, FERC’s decision was largely expected by groups opposed to the measure, including by Jeff Tittel, the chapter director of the New Jersey branch of the Sierra Club. “FERC has been a rubber stamp for the gas industry all along.”

“Even if [the pipeline] is not necessary,” he continued, referring to a claim by anti-pipeline groups that the additional energy source isn’t even needed, “FERC will approve the pipelines anyway.”

In the approval, FERC addressed the question of necessity by saying, “the applicants have demonstrated their project is needed by their willingness to bear the risk that the project’s costs can be recovered without subsidization from existing customers. The fact that the entire capacity of the proposed NJ-NY Project is subscribed under precedent agreements with 15- to 20-year terms is strong evidence that the market also believes that the project is needed.”

Although anti-pipeline groups have questioned FERC’s Environmental Impact Statement, Tittel remains skeptical of what more can be done to prevent the pipeline.

“We’re going to look into an appeal,” he said, adding, “we’ll look into what the legal challenges are and what the potential for success is, but i’m not sure what we’ll do.”

“It’s not always easy to overturn FERC decisions,” he explained. “You have to be able to prove a case, you really have to show a mistake. It’s really hard to beat them on cause because the Federal courts think the agency knows best.”

The sentiment was echoed by Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, who said the city is “extremely disappointed with the Commission’s decision” but is left similarly unsurprised.

“The entire process has been one lacking an independent and thorough analysis,” said Healy.  “While we review all of our options, we remain opposed to this high-pressure pipeline running through our densely populated city.” The city has often cited pipeline explosions around the country, such as one in San Bruno, CA last year, in their fight against FERC’s approval.

Although the Sierra Club and the city remain non-committal to a lawsuit, Dale Hardman, President of No Gas Pipeline, has already announced his group’s intention to file suit.

“We continue to seek members for our group to aid us before filing a suit to overturn FERC’s ruling in Federal District Court,” he said. In fact, No Gas Pipeline recently received a $500 grant from OneCleanWorld Foundation, a group that supports grassroots eco- and sustainability projects.

According to FERC, only already-declared intervenors can fight the decision, and will have “30 days from the date of the order to request rehearing of the Commission’s action. If any such requests are made, the Commission will review the arguments raised and issue an Order on Rehearing sometime thereafter.”

The order issuing certification can be read in full here.

Although many local state politicians opposed the measure, including Assemblyman Charles Mainor and State Senator Sandra Cunningham, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection had granted permits to Spectra back in December of 2011. At the time, Mainor had said he was “flabbergasted by the lack of concern for residents in DEP’s decision to grant Spectra the permits needed for the building of a gas pipeline through Jersey City.”

City and local officials had also tried to get national attention – and help – fighting the pipeline. Mayor Healy wrote a letter asking President Barack Obama to intervene, and he and Congressman Albio Sires pushed for new regulations at the national level to restrict how pipelines are built in urban areas.

Despite the strong showing of opposition, FERC’s approval was deemd a manner of when, not if, after they issued a favorable Environmental Impact Study.

Photos: Steve Gold

Matt Hunger

is a former staff writer for the Jersey City Independent.