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Gas Pipelines Take a Huge Toll on Delaware River Basin, New Report Finds

Jun 13, 2019

TRENTON — Development of natural gas pipelines and associated infrastructure is resulting in significant costs to the environment and communities in the Delaware River Basin (DRB), a new study conducted for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation finds. The costs that can be quantified could be as much as $2.4 billion for two pipelines alone — in addition to costs that can’t yet be quantified.

“Such costs should not be overlooked when making decisions about pipeline development in the region,” the report says.

The far-reaching analysis, “Environmental and Social Costs of Natural Gas Pipeline Development in the Delaware River Basin,” was conducted by The Cadmus Group LLC, an independent technical consultancy based in Massachusetts. It focuses on the proposed PennEast, and existing Mariner East 2, and Mariner East 2X pipelines, two of the numerous pipelines threatening the basin. Spanning portions of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, the Basin covers 42 counties and 838 municipalities. It is home to a wide variety of land uses and provides drinking water to more than 15 million people.

“No one has ever put all these numbers in one place,” said Tom Gilbert, New Jersey Conservation Foundation campaign director for energy, climate, and natural resources, “and doing so tells a powerful story of the magnitude of harm our region faces from pipelines.”

Quantifiable costs include loss of ecosystem services from land-cover changes in the pipeline right of way, greenhouse gas emissions that would result from construction and long-term operation of the PennEast pipeline and from the long-term operation of the two Mariner East pipelines, lost recreation days resulting from pipeline construction, and lost investment in lands protected through public acquisition or conservation easements that will be cleared to build the pipelines.

“We’ve been misled by PennEast about how many jobs this pipeline would create. This report confirms my belief that renewable energy projects, such as the solar project at Mercer County Community College, would generate even more construction opportunities and other jobs than would pipelines, said Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes.

Very real, important costs that could not be monetized or estimated include water quality degradation and treatment or procurement of new sources, stream quality and aquatic habitat degradation, loss of property value, and such construction disruptions as noise, vibrations, and aesthetics.

“This new report lays to rest any argument that PennEast would benefit the people of New Jersey or Pennsylvania,” said Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director and Chief Counsel of Clean Air Council. “As we’ve learned from the horrific impacts of Mariner East, the costs to our land, water, health, and economy far outweigh the corporate profit from these pipeline projects.”

Among the key findings:
• Mariner East 2 and PennEast would disrupt about 2,200 acres of land in the DRB for pipeline construction and long-term operation. These costs would result in a present-value loss of ecosystem services (such as climate regulation and water purification) in the DRB of about $11 million for Mariner East 2 and $43 million for PennEast.

• One million people consume water from public water systems that could be at risk of contamination or degradation due to the PennEast pipeline, and another 85,000 due to the Mariner East 2 pipeline. PennEast would also risk contamination to 792 domestic wells, with another 785 at risk from Mariner East 2.

• As of February 2019, there were about 240 inadvertent returns of drilling fluid to land and water along the Mariner East 2 route, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection had issued 94 notices of permit violations.

• Sediment moving from streams into the Delaware River may create additional costs for surface water treatment systems. Pipeline rights of way contribute the most to erosion and sedimentation in the natural gas development process.

• The total cost of greenhouse gas emissions for construction and operation of the PennEast pipeline, using the average social cost of carbon, would range from about $470 million to $1.4 billion over the life of the pipeline. This does not include the cost of downstream emissions, which PennEast estimates to be 21.3 million metric tons per year.

• The cost of unhealthy greenhouse gas emissions associated with operation of Mariner East 2 at one pump station and operations at a Marcus Hook facility will be approximately $260 million to $800 million. These estimates do not include emissions associated with construction or long-term operation of many other pump stations.

• Mariner East 2 and PennEast could cost recreation goers approximately $2.8 million in lost recreation enjoyment as the pipelines are constructed.

• Contrary to claims by pipeline companies, recent studies suggest that transmission pipelines reduce property values in the short term. Pipeline construction has been demonstrated to have detrimental effects on the quality or value of the property as a result of contaminated wells, alterations to the land, and proximity to the pipelines and operating equipment. Proximity to pipelines may also affect insurance rates or availability.

• The economic value of farmland disturbed by the PennEast and Mariner East 2 pipelines totals approximately $4 million, based on average farm real estate values in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

• Overall, one quarter of the land the PennEast pipeline is proposed to pass through in the DRB is protected in fee or preserved under conservation easements. Total costs of the acres of preserved land that would be cleared for the temporary and permanent right of way for PennEast is approximately $4 million.

The report also includes an analysis of job creation that undermines claims from PennEast that its proposed pipeline would provide a big boost for working people. Even using a relatively high jobs factor, the new report says that all forms of renewable energy — such as wind and solar —or energy conserving options evaluated would be expected to create more jobs than PennEast — from 2,744 to 13,719 additional jobs for the same level of investment.

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By Michele S. Byers,
Executive Director