UNION COUNTY — A company that is planning on building an oil pipeline through towns in Union County is raising concern because they have indicated to property owners they will use eminent domain, if needed, to acquire land.
Pilgrim Pipeline is seeking to build a 178-mile underground pipeline, located predominantly in existing right-of-way areas that will carry crude oil from Albany, NY, to Linden. At issue is the fact this pipeline is expected to be routed to Linden through municipalities such as Cranford, Clark, Roselle, Linden, Westfield, Scotch Plains, New Providence and Berkeley Heights.
However, Pilgrim continues to maintain they have not determined an exact route for the pipeline. The company maintains a pipeline is considerably safer than shipping petroleum products via the Hudson River to refineries in New Jersey or, for that matter, anywhere else.
The company does mention on their website their goal is to have more than 90 percent of the pipeline’s proposed route following pre-existing right-of-ways along existing utility routes.
The pipeline, though, could cross three rivers in New Jersey, all of which supply drinking water to residents and businesses, according to the New Jersey Sierra Club, which is actively fighting the move by
Concerns have surfaced in recent years about the safety of transporting oil, which federal officials have said is more flammable than crude oil. However, the Sierra Club said because there are so few pipelines like this one in the area, most oil is transported by rail to refineries.
Pilgrim Pipeline is a start-up company comprised of four former energy and finance executives who have two powerful law firms gathering support for them. One in particular is DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick & Cole, one of the most politically connected firms doing business with the state, county and local municipalities with heavy ties to the Democratic party.
Pilgrim, on the other hand, argued that Sierra Club’s involvement is merely a “public relations stunt” and they are confident the land can be acquired to construct the pipeline.
At issue is whether Pilgrim has the right to enter private properties in towns along the proposed route to install the pipeline using eminent domain. This is still being debated. However, the Sierra Club and Eastern Environmental Law Center maintains the company has no such rights, and explained their reasoning in a letter to Pilgrim in November.
Aaron Kleinbaum, an attorney for the Sierra Club, pointed out to DeCotiis, FitzPatrick & Cole that Pilgrim does not have the power to condemn private property or “strong arm” residents in the proposed pathway of the pipeline.
The letter went on to explain that Pilgrim has said Gov. Chris Christie approved the pipeline and the company received federal authority to gain access to private property, but this is far from the truth.
Kleinbaum said while Pilgrim has had a pre-application meeting with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, they have not made any formal application to the NJDEP, nor have they received approval by this state agency or any other state agency.
“Nor is there federal authority to gain access to private property as claimed by Pilgrim’s agents,” the attorney for the Sierra Club added, pointing out that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission does not regulate oil pipeline construction or startup of these services.
The attorney further stressed that given the fact Pilgrim’s agents have not been truthful about their rights under the law, “this could constitute fraud and misrepresentation.”
“The goals of these wrongful legal and factual claims are to falsely induce homeowners to sign away their property rights and chill the opposition to the Pilgrim Pipeline,” Kleinbaum said, adding that “individual homeowners are frightened because they believe the pipeline has been approved at the highest levels of government.”
Others, he said, have been reluctant to speak out because they might become targets for further harassment. The attorney also requested that Pilgrim stop contacting homeowners with “inaccurate legal and factual claims.”
The Sierra Club attorney said Pilgrim is not a public utility, nor has the company been able to show the property it is seeking from residents is necessary for public use.
Among the concerns Sierra Club has is that the pipeline is expected to run through certain parts of the state which provide drinking water for half of New Jersey residents.
“A major oil spill will prove disastrous. Pipeline construction will destroy wetlands and critical habitats for threatened and endangered species and degrade the waterways in many ways, including from more erosion due to construction,” said Kleinbaum.
The attorney made special note of Superstorm Sandy, explaining the Sierra Club also opposes fuel sources that contribute to climate change.
“New Jersey coastal communities are not prepared for the sea level to rise one foot, much less the three to five feet predicted in 85 years,” Kleinbaum added.
According to NJ Spotlight, which reports on news, issues and insight for New Jersey, Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club suggested Pilgrim is “deliberately misrepresenting the facts and the law.”
“They do not have the right to come on your property. They do not have the right of eminent domain and they do not have the right to threaten people and property owners. This is an outrageous form of intimidation and harassment,” Tittel said.
Pilgrim, though, has a completely different take on the pipeline they are proposing, including that the New York and New Jersey region is one of the only highly populated areas in the country not served by a pipeline connection for delivery of refined oil products.
Pilgrim argued the pipeline will create a safer and more secure means to transport oil and petroleum products, limiting the amount going from ships to docks.
“The pipeline will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, compared to current transportation modes used in New Jersey and New York, and provide customers and businesses with a more stable supply of gasoline and heating oil,” they said, adding on their website that the pipeline will also address supply disruptions and price spikes that occur during severe weather conditions and catastrophic events.
Pilgrim also mentioned that the 178-mile pipeline would have a diameter of no more than 24-inches, but the actual size has not been determined as of yet. Approximately 200,000 barrels of refined petroleum products like gasoline, diesel, home heating oil and jet fuel per day would move from New York Harbor to points north and another 200,000 barrels southbound from Albany terminals to delivery points in New Jersey.
The company also pointed out that the type of permitting required for the pipeline “will be determined by the route.”
“Because it is an oil pipeline, the necessary permits will be acquired from state agencies rather than the federal government’s Federal Energy Regulatory commission,” Pilgrim explained, but added construction will be in accordance with federal guidelines “to ensure the project meets the highest standards of safety.”
Pilgrim expects to submit permits to the state by the end of the year with the $900 million to $1 billion pipeline project taking a “construction season to complete.”
As for safety concerns, Pilgrim said federal law requires that emergency response plans are filed and approved in advance of the pipeline becoming operational.
“Beyond that the pipeline’s automatic pressure sensors close all valves throughout the entirety of the route if a leak occurs, ensuring that all operations shut down immediately in the event of any incident or unexplained drop in pressure,” the company said.
Meanwhile, various groups have formed to fight the pipeline including the Coalition to Stop Pilgrim Pipeline, or CAPP. This particular group maintained communities along the pathway of the pipeline bear the entire burden, stressing “there are no upsides, only negatives.”
CAPP’s goal is to get municipalities to adopt a resolution opposing the pipeline and encourage residents to attend meetings and voice their displeasure. They also point out that property owners have no legal obligation to grant Pilgrim permission to access their land.
Roselle residents Arlene Murphy and Richard Lenihan are also heading up a grass roots crusade to stop the pipeline.
They point out that the pipeline is expected to run adjacent to Washington Elementary school, LV Moore Middle School, and Roselle Catholic High School in Roselle.
Various municipalities are considering a resolution against the pipeline and asking legislators to help fight their cause, with Berkeley Heights most recently, as of press time, passing a resolution against the pipeline.