In 2013, the New Jersey Pinelands Commission issued a draft Memorandum of Agreement (“MOA”) between the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (“BPU”) and the New Jersey Pinelands Commission ("Pinelands Commission") that would have authorized the construction of a 22-mile, 24-inch, high-pressure natural gas pipeline through 15 miles of the Pinelands Forest Management Area. This pipeline proposed by South Jersey Gas would have transported fracked natural gas to the B.L. England Plant in Cape May County. DRN members submitted letters and emails urging the Pinelands Commission to deny this harmful project. In 2017, the pipeline was approved by the Pinelands Commission despite massive public protest and the fact that it violated the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP). The CMP only permits infrastructure like gas pipelines in the Forest Management Area if it is “intended to primarily serve the needs of the Pinelands” – that is, only if needed for the towns and villages within the Pinelands (N.J.A.C. 7:50-5.23). This project did not meet that criteria. By 2019, improvements to the electric grid and changing industry economics meant that a gas-powered plant in Cape May County was no longer going to be profitable. The B.L. England owner filed papers with the court conceding it did not intend to build the power plant. The Attorney General followed up with papers saying there is now no basis for approving the SJG pipeline and the project was defeated.
Despite this victory, the Pinelands are still at risk from natural gas pipelines. In 2018, construction started on the 30-mile New Jersey Natural Gas Southern Reliability Link (SRL) pipeline that would carry natural gas through Burlington, Monmouth and Ocean counties, including portions of the Delaware River Watershed. This project runs through the sensitive preservation area of the Pinelands, but was approved because it traverses the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB MDL) military base. On June 19, 2020, HDD activity caused a release of drilling fluid into a stream and a nearby resident’s home. The slab of the affected home cracked due to hydrostatic pressure, mud flooded the home, and the building inspector condemned the building, advising the resident to leave immediately. The drilling sludge also discharged into a local stream, necessitating a cleanup. Investigations revealed multiple other incidents of HDD inadvertent returns. This led to NJDEP suspending the permit for the project and ordering construction to cease. Unfortunately, NJDEP then reinstated the permit in November 2020 after accepting NJNG’s explanation of the spills and a modified plan to move forward. As a result, this project continues to threaten the Pinelands and water quality.