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EPA questions PennEast pipeline

Questions continue to arise regarding the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee’s draft environmental impact statement for the proposed PennEast pipeline.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is the latest group doing the asking.A 16-page letter submitted Sept. 12 to FERC outlines the EPA’s “significant concerns regarding the alternatives analysis, a number of important topics for which information is incomplete, and the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of the proposed action on the environment and public health, including impacts to terrestrial resources, including interior forests, aquatic resources, and rare, threatened and endangered species.”The EPA recommends FERC provide a detailed route analysis for the 118-mile natural gas pipeline, slated to run from Luzerne County to Mercer County, New Jersey.Kidder, Penn Forest, Towamensing and Lower Towamensing townships would be impacted if the planned route is put in place.“We believe that FERC should further consider collocation opportunities and develop alternatives which further avoid and minimize impacts to important project area resources,” the EPA wrote. “Without additional analysis of alternatives, it is not clear that the preferred alternative is the only one that can meet the stated purpose and need.”PennEast spokeswoman Pat Kornick said route changes have included collocating 37 percent of the pipeline’s route alongside other utility rights of way, to minimize environmental and community impacts.The EPA also recommends the final impact statement evaluate potential construction impacts relative to mining subsidence, landslides and flash flooding and potential blasting impacts to water wells, springs and wetlands.It rated the draft impact statement preferred alternative as an EO-2, meaning the agency has environmental objections and believes there is insufficient information.“Some of the key information that is left to a future date includes geophysical investigations (particularly landslide investigations); karst mitigation plans; blasting plans; water ceil and spring surveys; historic information; surveys for land, rare, threatened or endangered species; geotechnical feasibility studies for horizontal directional drilling, and a detailed aquatic resource compensatory mitigation plan,” the EPA wrote in its statement.The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service are other federal entities that have spoken out against the proposal.FERC released its draft EIS in late July and determined “that construction and operation of the project would result in some adverse environmental impacts, but impacts would be reduced to less-than-significant levels with the implementation of PennEast’s proposed and FERC staff’s recommended mitigation measures.”The environmental impact according to the EPA, however, would be “significantly adverse.”“Impact estimates in the draft impact statement include direct removal or fragmentation of 633 acres of forest,” according to the EPA. “The preferred alternative would result in 56 acres of temporary impact to wetlands, 35 acres of permanent impact to wetlands, and 255 waterbody crossings. These systems provide habitat and valuable water quality and air quality ecological services for the region and downstream Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. PennEast has proposed a 1,056 foot dry crossing of the Susquehanna River, which appears to be the longest crossing of the project. Construction of this crossing proposes to divert flow of the river during low flow conditions. EPA recommends that the potential on site and downstream effects of these flow perturbations be quantified.”FERC plans to release its final environmental impact statement by December.A final decision on the pipeline is due by March 2017, according to a timeline released earlier this year.