Proposed Pilgrim Pipeline sparks further debate

UNION COUNTY, NJ — Two proposed parallel oil pipelines that would cross 30 municipalities throughout five New Jersey counties, along with 25 municipalities throughout six New York counties, are generating further discussion and scrutiny as the 2018 gubernatorial and legislative elections draw near.

The project, proposed in 2014 by Pilgrim Pipelines Holdings, LLC, would use two parallel, bi-directional pipelines, each 178 miles long, and would carry refined products like gasoline, diesel, kerosene, aviation fuel and home heating oil from New Jersey refineries and storage facilities to points north.

The pipeline would carry crude oil to the south from storage facilities in Albany to the Bayway Refinery in Linden.

New Jersey’s review process begins when Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings files for permits with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The DEP will then use any data provided by the company, along with other interested parties, to determine if permits should be issued to allow construction to proceed.

Although the company has had preliminary contact with the DEP, it has made no filings yet, according to the DEP. The review process will begin sometime after permit filings.

As a pipeline that does not cross an international border, the federal government has a limited role in regulating the placement of the Pilgrim Pipeline, with almost all the regulation occurring at the state level.

This differs from natural gas pipelines, where the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has a primary role in the siting of new pipelines.

According to Larry Hajna, of the NJDEP, the agency’s regulatory oversight of any kind of pipeline is limited to areas where the DEP has jurisdiction, such as crossings of waterways or wetlands that might be affected.

“In cases of interstate natural gas pipelines, FERC reviews the economic justification of the pipeline,” Hajna told LocalSource in a Feb. 13 email. “In the case of oil pipelines, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities reviews the impact of a pipeline on ratepayers and reviews whether there is a contractual agreement for the use of the product to be shipped. When DEP does a review of an oil pipeline project — and keep in mind we have no application from Pilgrim to review — it is our responsibility to ensure that its impacts on any areas we regulate are avoided, minimized or mitigated.”

Approximately 43 municipalities in New Jersey have passed resolutions in opposition to or placing restrictions on the pipeline, with eight of them in Union County, including Roselle, Linden, Rahway, Clark, Cranford, Westfield, New Providence, Scotch Plains, Berkeley Heights and Fanwood.

Proponents of the project argue that the Northeast region of the U.S. remains one of the only major population areas in the country not served by a direct pipeline connection for delivery of refined products from refining centers to consumers, including gasoline and home heating oil, which forces the region to rely on river barges. Those in favor say that the reliance on barges for oil delivery will leave the region susceptible to severe weather events such as Superstorm Sandy, leading to shortages of critical fuels and creating service disruptions and price spikes for customers.

Those opposed to the pipeline, including a coalition of environmental groups, as well as many municipalities throughout the state, argue that the pipeline will have a major impact on the environment, public health and property values.

Opponents say that the pipeline is susceptible to corrosion and leakage problems, and that the transported products, which they say are highly volatile, are dangerous to both humans and environment. Opponents also say that leaks threaten the water supply to homes, businesses and schools.

Damage to both urban communities and open spaces through which it would pass is cited, as is the possible destruction of wetlands and critical habitats, a negative impact on waterways, endangered and threatened species affected, toxic air emissions and further erosion due to construction.

But those who support the project, including several North Jersey unions, say the project would create many much-needed construction jobs, as well as decrease the country’s reliance on foreign energy.

According to George Bochis, vice president, of Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings, the company is currently in the process of preparing to submit applications for permits to the NJDEP, who Bochis said is the agency responsible for permitting.
“Pilgrim is currently in the process of preparing for various submissions,” Bochis told LocalSource in a Feb. 9 email. “Once made, permits will be reviewed and final determinations will be made. We are currently working to ensure that our application is as comprehensive as possible. We expect completion of the pipeline to take approximately one construction season once construction starts.”

Pilgrim has not finalized the pipeline’s route, said Bochis, but municipalities along the route will not be greatly impacted.

“I can tell you in general for any towns and cities along the route, there is not much of a direct impact,” Bochis said. “That’s because Pilgrim will be built almost exclusively along existing rights-of-way, minimizing disruption to citizens throughout the route while allowing for the most environmentally sound, safest and least disruptive approach to this project. The pipelines will run in parallel and will be buried approximately three feet underground. The actual footprint of the buried pipeline is only about 5 1/2 feet.”

In response to opposition of the project my environmental groups, Bochis said that fighting for the status quo — the reliance on a somewhat outdated means of oil transport — is not necessarily a good thing.

“These groups are arguing for the status quo in the region, which means reliance on a transportation that hasn’t changed much in the past century,” Bochis said. “The same oil and fuels that Pilgrim is proposing to carry by pipeline is already going through the region via a 100-year-old barge system.”

Currently, said Bochis, these products are transported by barge up and down the Hudson River.

“Pilgrim would replace over 2,000 barge trips per year,” Bochis said. “It takes two different barges to take two trips in each direction for every delivery of oil or refined products. This process poses a far higher spill risk, and emits far more C02 than the proposed Pilgrim Pipeline. And in winter, oil barges are at particular risk of spill. Our project offers a safer and more secure means of transporting these fuels while generating lower greenhouse gas emissions to carry the same amount of product. Therefore, the fact is that Pilgrim would reduce the risks to wildlife, waterways and the environment.”

As for municipalities who have claimed that the pipeline poses a risk to communities, Bochis said that this is not the case.

“Regarding ‘highly flammable’ — that is simply not the case when transporting oil by pipeline,” Bochis said. “Unlike transportation by rail or barge, the difference in volatility of different types of crude are rendered irrelevant by pipeline transportation because no air pressure or jostling occurs in a pipeline, which are preconditions for an explosion. And spill risk is extremely low.”

City of Linden Mayor Derek Armstead did not respond to LocalSource’s request for comment as of press time, Feb. 14.

According to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration cited by Bochis, in 2014 there was a 0.000324 chance of an incident per mile of pipeline. And according to the American Petroleum Institute, said Bochis, 99.999 percent of crude oil and petroleum products delivered by pipeline reach their destination safely.

According to Joe Testa, of the Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipeline, the coalition is a broad organization of environmental and religious groups and local activists whose focus is on engaging local and state officials.

“Much of the work that these activists have done has been to go to their local municipal governments to convince them to adopt resolutions opposing Pilgrim, and better yet to pass ordinances restricting hazardous liquid pipelines,” Testa told LocalSource in a Feb. 8 email. “Pilgrim has not conducted any negotiations, or even dialogue, with CAPP. They have not even been open with the municipal governments of the towns they propose to pass through. They have been rebuked for misleading tactics when attempting to gain access to private property for land surveys.”

Testa said that the positions of political candidates on the issue of the pipeline is important.

“In N.J., with state election coming this year, we are interested in the positions of the gubernatorial and legislative candidates,” Testa said.

The Coalition to Support Pilgrim Pipeline, a group of businesses, trade associations, labor unions and individuals who support the pipeline, did not return LocalSource’s request for comment as of press time, February 14.

According to Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, transporting the oil, no matter the means, poses a risk.

“Whether Pilgrim Pipeline is traveling by rail, barge or pipeline, it is a disaster waiting to happen, endangering our families, property and environment,” Tittlel told LocalSource in a Feb. 8 email. “All modes of oil transportation leak, create accidents and have significant health and multifaceted safety concerns. Despite their claims, Pilgrim Pipeline would cause a significant increase greenhouse gas emissions from multiple sources. It would not only increase the pollution from burning the fuel, but also from refining it, as well as from leaks and spills.”

According to Tittel, the lifting of the crude oil export ban has made it more likely that oil will continue to move by barge, rail and the pipelines, leading to an overall increase in greenhouse gases associated with oil transport.

“Pilgrim’s notion that they will reduce greenhouse gases also fails to take into consideration the GHG emissions from the increased shipment of oil by train to Albany that would be required to fill the pipeline to its capacity. All told, the Pilgrim pipelines, running at full capacity, would directly or indirectly cause the release of almost three times — 198 percent — the tonnage of GHG than is due to the current methods of moving crude from North Dakota via Albany to New Jersey.”

Matt Smith, Senior Organizer for Food and Water Watch, an environmental group and one of the founding members of CAPP, told LocalSource that there is no safe way to transport the oil via the proposed pipeline.

“It’s a no-win situation for New Jersey,” Smith said.
Smith also took issue with claims made by Pilgrim that thousands of jobs would be created.

Bochis estimates that the project will create 2,000 construction jobs and employ 50 full-time positions upon its completion, providing a significant economic benefit to the region.

“Trade unions in both states have told us this would be one of the most significant projects in the region in years in terms of construction jobs,” Bochis said.

Tittel alleges that the pipeline would pose a threat to many residential communities.

“The proposed pipeline route travels through densely populated residential areas, near schools, hospitals and businesses, and would cut through environmentally sensitive and protected areas, including the Highlands region in New Jersey, which provides drinking water to more than 4.5 million people in NJ,” he said. “One quart of oil pollutes a million gallons of water. No matter how new a pipeline is, all pipelines are prone to human error, accidents and spills.
Pilgrim Pipeline would transport 400,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil and refined products per day, posing safety risks for communities for 30 to 40 years.”

According to Tittel, the Sierra Club will continue to fight the proposed pipeline.
“Even though Pilgrim has yet to file for permits in New Jersey, we have hired an environmental consultant to conduct an analysis of Pilgrim’s impacts to water quality in an effort to fight various permits required,” Tittel said. “At the NJDEP, they will need dozens of permits and approvals. … There will even be a 401 water quality certificate needed, which is the same permit that helped reject the Constitution Pipeline in New York. We will work to continue the public outcry and ensure these various approvals are rejected.”