The proposed $1.2 billion PennEast Pipeline, which would deliver Marcellus Shale natural gas to New Jersey utilities, was dealt a setback Monday when a regional regulatory agency said it now wants to conduct an independent review of the project.
The Delaware River Basin Commission, which last year requested a joint review with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), said Monday that it would conduct its own set of public hearings about the 119-mile pipeline.
The DRBC, consisting of the governors of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware and a federal representative, has been under pressure from pipeline opponents to more rigorously review the project. The commission said it now plans to hold "multiple" public meetings in Pennsylvania and New Jersey next year.
"The DRBC is committed to a process that affords individuals the opportunity to comment on issues of concern to them that relate to the basin's water resources," the commission said in a notice on its website.
The Sierra Club of New Jersey hailed the commission's decision as a victory. "This will slow down this project even more and give us a better chance to stop it," the group said in a statement.
But the pipeline's sponsors, who had already pushed back the project's completion until 2018 after the federal energy agency said it would not complete its review until March, said the DRBC's decision was not a hindrance.
"Contrary to what opponents want to believe, we're still on schedule," said Patricia Kornick, PennEast's spokeswoman.
PennEast is sponsored by UGI Energy Services, a subsidiary of UGI Corp., of Valley Forge. Affiliates of South Jersey Gas, New Jersey Natural Gas, Public Service Electric & Gas Co., and Elizabethtown Gas in New Jersey are also investors in the project.
The DRBC's decision to expand its public-review process comes amid an upsurge in resistance among activists who are effectively using regulatory and judicial procedures to delay fossil fuel-related infrastructure development.
On Friday, New York regulators declined to issue a water-quality permit for the $925 million Constitution pipeline, which would deliver Marcellus Shale gas from northeastern Pennsylvania to pipelines serving primarily New England.
The Constitution Pipeline, which had cleared FERC, is developed by Williams Partners L.P. with Cabot Oil & Gas. Corp., Piedmont Natural Gas Co., and WGL Holdings Inc.
Last week, Kinder Morgan pulled the plug on its proposed 120-mile Northeast Energy Direct pipeline from New York state through Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, saying it had failed to secure sufficient customers.
PennEast's foes say that the New Jersey pipeline is unneeded, and that its construction would damage the local environment and contribute to climate change.
Kornick, the PennEast spokeswoman, said utilities and power plants had committed to buying 90 percent of the project's capacity of one billion cubic feet a day.
"This is not a build-it-and-they-will-come pipeline," she said. "The need is very clear."