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gas pipeline explosion raises the worst fears

Published May 06. 2016 04:02PM

The gas line explosion in Western Pennsylvania last week has raised the fear level of property-owners in the path of the proposed PennEast pipeline that would run through parts of our area, most notably Carbon and Northampton counties.

The blast in Westmoreland County sparked a huge fireball which left one person badly burned and caused damage to a home, utilities, melted asphalt on a nearby highway and caused evacuations of residents. The heat was so intense that it burned the sidings of two homes hundreds of feet away, fire officials said.

When he arrived at the scene, Forbes Road Fire Chief Bob Rosatti said, "It looked like you were looking down into hell."

The incident has had an unsettling effect on opponents of the proposed gas transmission project for this area. The project has been facing significant opposition from landowners and community groups who are concerned with safety and the potential harm to the environment.

More than two dozen municipalities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have passed resolutions opposing the project and more are considering joining the opposition, according to Save Carbon County, one of just several groups formed to fight the pipeline project.

Residents and elected officials at all levels of government, including school districts, counties and conservation groups, have overwhelmingly called for the six companies financing the PennEast pipeline to drop the project, according to the organization. The six are UGI Utilities, AGL Resources, NJR Pipeline Co., Public Service Enterprise Group, South Jersey Industries and Spectra Energy.

This pipeline, if approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would cut a 125-foot path for about 114 miles, from Luzerne County in the Wilkes-Barre area to the Trenton area in Mercer County, New Jersey.

According to documents submitted to the Carbon County commissioners, about 10 miles of pipeline will go through Kidder Township, 7.6 miles through Penn Forest Township, 6.4 miles through Towamensing Township and 4.1 miles will be in Lower Towamensing Township. About Carbon 150 property owners would be affected by the project.

According to Save Carbon County, the pipeline project is about seven months behind schedule. The organization also charges that there are trespassing incidents, the latest last month in Kidder Township.

"The pipeline company says they have a 'zero tolerance' policy toward trespass, but it seems to us that trespass is business as usual," the organization said on its website.

PennEast denies the trespassing allegation. A company representative said surveys are conducted only on public rights of way and on private property with property owner approval.

PennEast said it has gotten extensive feedback from landowners, public officials, the community and other interested parties. This, the company said, has allowed it to prepare a more complete and accurate certificate filing that "best minimizes community and environmental impacts."

The company also said that in response to community input, PennEast has evaluated more than 100 route options and made multiple route modifications to make sure it advances safe pipeline construction.

The proposed route has been adjusted within the 400-foot survey corridor to avoid or minimize impacts to wetlands, cultural resources, agricultural lands and other sensitive habitats, the company said. "And while the permanent right of way will be generally 50 feet wide, PennEast is committed to reducing the maintained width of 30 feet in forested areas and 10 feet in wetlands," a company statement said.

The company also said that its efforts throughout its application to FERC will be to work with landowners and municipalities along the proposed route to "mitigate impacts from pipeline construction and operations."

Opponents claim the project will be "devastating" to the environment. The proposed route would cross 88 waterways, many of which are federally regulated, 44 wetlands and 30 parks. About 85 percent of the pipeline would cross through the Delaware River watershed, thereby increasing the risk of destruction of habitats of endangered species, such as bald eagles, ospreys, great blue herons and others.

Opponents also fear the project will adversely impact tourism in some areas which feature horseback riding, fishing, picnicking, hunting, cross-country skiing and bird-watching.

The Western Pennsylvania explosion last week involved a pipeline owned and serviced by Texas Eastern, a division of Spectra, one of the six companies financing the proposed PennEast project.

The cause of that explosion has not been determined, but investigators have found evidence of corrosion, which indicates a "possible flaw" in the coating material applied to a pair of welded joints,according to the federal Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Meanwhile, in April, FERC postponed a decision on the pipeline project until next January, about seven months later than the company wanted.

By Bruce Frassinelli |

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