Diamond East Pipeline Project
Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Company Proposes its Third Consecutive Pipeline Upgrade in Three Years with its Diamond East Pipeline Project
Project Name: Diamond East Pipeline Project (Proposed by Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Company)
Proposed Project Locations: Potentially - Luzerne County, PA; Carbon County, PA; Northampton County, PA; Bucks County, PA; Hunterdon County, NJ; Mercer County, PA. (Route not yet finalized).
Transcontinental Gas and Pipeline Company (“Transco”) recently announced a new project on August 26, 2014 called the Diamond East Pipeline project. The Diamond East Pipeline is designed to be a large scale transmission pipeline that will stretch 50 miles from a gathering system in Luzerne County and Lycoming Counties in Pennsylvania and terminate at in Mercer County, New Jersey. The proposed project will include new pipeline looping and additional compression to transport roughly 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. The Diamond East Pipeline project will impact over 600 acres of land. The project appears to be wholly redundant with the PennEast Pipeline Project which was proposed earlier in August. Both projects propose to carry 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day and follow a parallel path through the Delaware River Basin.
The Diamond East project is the third in a series of pipeline upgrade projects that Transco has proposed in the last three years to its Leidy pipeline system. The first project was the Northeast Supply link, which went into service in 2013. The next project was Transco’s Leidy Southeast Expansion project, which is currently in the permitting process at both the state and federal levels. Transco’s third project proposes to fill in the gaps left by the aforementioned projects. Each of these projects impact the same sub-watersheds and tributary systems, and also involve overlapping construction zones and results in the re-disturbance of streams, soils, and habitat. This type of pipeline project segmentation has been recently rejected the D.C. Circuit in Delaware Riverkeeper Network, et al. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. In that case the D.C. Circuit found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission improperly segmented its review of a series of four pipeline upgrade project proposed by Tennessee Gas and Pipeline Company over a period of 3 years. Here, we have a substantially similar situation.
The size and scope of the construction activity for the Diamond East project and stream crossings associated with this project will have a deleterious effect on the water resources of the Delaware River Basin. Indeed, the Diamond East project may require a crossing of the Delaware River itself as well as many other sensitive exceptional value and high quality tributaries to the Delaware River. Large scale transmission lines such as the Diamond East project also result in significant forest fragmentation, invite and propagate the spread of invasive species, and degrade the diversity and dispersion of native flora and fauna. Furthermore, these pipeline projects also degrade the functions and values of the wetlands that they plow through, as the construction and operation of the pipeline permanently converts forested wetlands to uplands or emergent wetlands. The Diamond East project will further facilitate the development of new gas drilling wells, access roads, gathering lines, compressor stations, and other supporting infrastructure, which will further degrade the local environment.
There are also significant concerns related to the cumulative impact that continuous water body crossing pipeline construction activity and wetland disturbance has on the health and vitality of the Delaware River Basin. This is particularly a concern with the Diamond East project, as many of these same subwatersheds are proposed to be impacted by construction activity on PennEast’s parallel line.. Also, there are several other proposed pipeline projects that have been concentrated in the same sub watersheds as the Diamond East project, these projects include: Texas Eastern’s TEAM 2014 Project, Columbia’s East Side Expansion Project.
The Diamond East project will need to receive a number of important federal and state permits and authorizations for it to proceed. This includes authorizations from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity), the Army Corps of Engineers (Section 404 permit), the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (Section 401 Clean Water Certifications). The project proponents have stated that they intend on holding public meetings and submitting initial proposals to regulatory agencies later this year. The process for obtaining each of the aforementioned required permits is an opportunity for the general public to engage with the regulatory body and the project proponent, submit comments, and impact the project itself.
Additionally, the Delaware River Basin Commission has the authority to regulate pipeline construction activity if it involves a “significant disturbance of ground cover” affecting water resources. The Diamond East project certainly would trigger review under that standard; however, up to this point the Delaware River Basin Commission has failed to exercise its authority in this arena for any of the pipelines that have crisscrossed the Delaware River Basin. DRN encourages community members to write letters in support of the Commission properly exercising its authority over these projects.
DRN is committed to restoring natural balance in the Delaware River and watershed where it has been lost and ensuring preservation where it still exists. As such, we are actively engaged at the local, state, and federal government levels to ensure that full weight of legal environmental protection laws are brought to bear on all pipeline projects under consideration, including the Diamond East project.