New Brunswick, NJ – Food & Water Watch today released a series of emails between New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG) project officials and Joint Base representatives obtained through a FOIA request, as reported by WHYY. The emails show the gas company attempting to streamline the Pinelands Commission approval process by creating a fictional military need on the McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Base and misrepresenting proven factual pipeline safety information to base officials.
“The emails show that NJNG has masterminded a rationale to smooth the way for the project, at the advice of the Pinelands Commission,” said Lena Smith, New Jersey organizer for Food & Water Watch. “We’re releasing these emails because it’s a revealing behind-the-scenes look at how officials are pushing the pipeline on the community with little or no transparency.”
According to the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan any new developments within the Pinelands must serve the needs of the Pinelands.
A May 12, 2014 email documents that the original route of the pipeline was set to take a “southern route” down Route 70, which would have passed through the Forest Preservation area and not even entered the base. According to the emails, the Pinelands Commission staff agreed that even though this was the “best option” the route “would make the approval process more cumbersome.” The emails also show that the Pinelands Commission staff suggested NJNG approach the military base to “see if we could reroute the line through your base and come out the back end of our project. [The Pinelands Commission staff] believe that this new route along with a letter from the base that the presence of the pipeline would be a positive attribute to future base activities could streamline the process.”
“Apparently, NJNG only switched to the military route through the Joint Base after the Pinelands Commission staff told them it would streamline the process and the Pinelands Commission staff recommended that they invent a need on the base to receive approval from the commission,” says Smith.
The emails document the details of an agreement made between NJNG and the Joint Base to run the pipeline along the McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst easement in exchange for a payment to the base.
Downplaying Safety Issues
The emails also show NJNG downplaying the safety issues with the pipeline to Joint Base officials who expressed concerns about the blast radius and the proximity to their military training technologies.
After the Joint Base representative to NJNG sent a document around to the base management, Navy officials from the Lakehurst Naval Station raised safety concerns about locating the pipeline on the base. An October 15, 2014 email from the Joint Base representative to NJNG official states:
“I just got this inquiry yesterday from the Navy people in the Lakehurst side.” The inquiry the official referred to states, “The main concern is at the test site area with the gas main being so close to B355, the EMALS and catapult site. Concern on the mission integrity if an explosion or a gas leak, which could be catastrophic. Can you inquire into the blast radius or recommended clear zones if this main was to give away in the test area?”
The NJNG official’s answer on Octobter 28, 2014 was, “As a simple answer to the question, there is no ‘blast radius’ or ‘clear zone’ calculation that I know of. That term typically is used by anti-pipeline groups who are looking to raise fear of a pipeline installation.” The email then cites standards and information about mitigating worst case scenario.
“Unfortunately, NJNG’s claim that there is no blast radius calculation is false,” says Smith. “NJNG as a company that operates pipelines should be well versed in the federal government’s Pipeline Integrity Management regulations. These rules comprise the safety requirements to which NJNG and every other pipeline operator in the nation must comply every day.”
A “potential impact radius” (PIR) is defined as the radius of a circle within which the potential failure of a pipeline could have significant impact on people and is calculated using the maximum allowable operating pressure (MOAP) in the pipeline segment and the diameter of the pipeline in inches to determine the radius.
The Southern Reliability Link Pipeline has a diameter of 30 inches and a known MOAP of 722 pounds per square inch. This is information that NJNG could have easily used to calculate the PIR.
Articulating a “Military Need” To Smooth Way for Project
After six months of discussions with the base, NJNG was no closer to being able to articulate an actual military purpose for the pipeline. On December 1, 2014 the NJNG official putting together the wording for section 9 of the Pinelands permit, the portion that requires a description of why the project conforms to the Pinelands regulations for utility use, states, “…I would also like to talk about how we can directly impact the Joint Base’s system. There seems to be two ways to address the issue….” The first way the official gives is “to identify a specific set up building” that needs to be serviced and states “…having a specific plan would be better than vague statements.” The second way they suggest is “to identify a future site for a possible station to reinforce the existing system as well as start a new system west of 539. I could install the necessary valves to accomplish our goal and identify it for future installation under a separate application….I believe one of the above items must be identified and included in our description of the base. This issue needs to get settled so the application can get submitted.”
The purely hypothetical, future, potential site for a possible station was critical, because without a regulator station to lower the pipeline’s pressure to a usable level, there could not be any actual military purpose for the pipeline, which would simply pass through the base at a higher pressure than it could be used.
These emails suggest that the company struggled as they filled out the Pinelands Commission application to come up with a legitimate military purpose for the pipeline, other than vague statements. According to the application submitted to the Pinelands Commission there appear to be no actual plans laid out to build a station that would lower the pressure of the pipeline to a usable pressure for any actual military purpose.
"NJNG has created a fictional military purpose for the Pinelands application and misled military officials about the blast radius in the process," says Smith. "For NJNG, the need for a pipeline for the base was not a mere talking point. This was essential to the Pinelands application, which could not be submitted without it."
The final NJNG application to the Pinelands Commission reads: “The proposed project will provide [Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst] with the reliability which is critical for their operations, especially in emergency and crisis situations when the base is required to support communities in the region and around the country. This new natural gas service will also serve future base projects which will require adequate service that is not currently in place.”
Because no need existed on the base NJNG resorted to vague statements to attempt to make the claim that the pipeline would serve the needs of the base and therefore the Pinelands.
According to Smith, “These email exchanges raise serious doubts to the legitimacy of the NJNG claim in their applications that the pipeline will serve the needs of the base. NJNG is actively working to mislead both the Joint Base officials and the Pinelands Commissioners in order to push the pipeline through Pinelands. The Pinelands Commission must take action to protect the Pinelands and reject the application.”
Contact: Lena Smith, 732-839-0878