Clean Ocean Action: The Anti-Fracking Fight & the NESE Pipeline

Clean Ocean Action gathers with area officials to protest the NESE pipeline on May 31.
Photo/Clean Ocean Action

Friday was a day for hundreds of area residents, elected officials, business owners, volunteers championing environmental action to gather with Clean Ocean Action (COA) at Bayshore Waterfront Park, in the Belford section of Middletown, and call on NJ Gov. Phil Murphy to permanently deny all permits for the Williams Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) Pipeline.  

Clean Ocean Action maintains that the 23.4-mile project would “rip Raritan Bay in half, contaminate waters, kill marine life and destroy decades of efforts to improve waterways.” 

Photo/Clean Ocean Action

“The outpouring to defend the bay and ocean is inspiring,” Clean Ocean Action Executive Director Cindy Zipf said. “Together we have worked hard and spent millions to improve these waters. The whales, fish, clams, seal and people are all back enjoying the cleaner water. No way we will we allow harm to come to these remarkable and valuable resources. Governor Murphy must send Williams back to Oklahoma.”

The NESE Pipeline is a 37-mile pipeline designed to bring fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania to the New York City area. The pipeline would begin in Pennsylvania, cut through central New Jersey and continue offshore through New Jersey and New York state waters until reaching the Rockaways. Leading environmental groups are focused on what has been dubbed the Raritan Loop — the 23.4 mile offshore section that slices through the bays and ocean. Bringing the pipeline through the loop will have significant impacts on water quality, marine life, and public health, environmentalists contend.

Williams Company touts the boosting of a clean, economic natural gas option on its website, “New York City’s appetite for natural gas is increasing as consumers continue to phase out the use of heavy fuel oils,” the project description says. “Williams is developing the Northeast Supply Enhancement project to expand the existing Transco natural gas pipeline system by the 2020 winter heating season to provide important gas supply that will help the City reach its clean air goals.” For more on the project click here.

Environmentalists adamantly disagree, reiterating their mainstay claim that not only the potential for contamination in the construction process, but to water supplies, marine life, wetlands and the tourism and local economies.

“It’s critical that the community’s concerns about the environmental and climate impact of the proposed pipeline are heard loud and clear,” Congressman Frank Pallone said. “There is potential for serious harm to our environment that could also negatively impact our local economy. Any toxins from the sea bed or chemicals used during the construction process could pollute the wetlands, shorelines, and food chains of marine animals. I appreciate the Department of Environmental Protection’s consideration of everyone’s concerns as we move through this process.”

The rally was the culmination of what has been a three-year fight to protect water and air quality, marine life, and the coastal communities of the Bayshore from the pipeline proposed by Williams Company and its subsidiary Transcontinental Pipeline Co.

Photo/Clean Ocean Action

Local officials agree. Here’s what they had to say about the project:

“Since the late 1990s, our communities have worked diligently to improve our beaches and our fishing industry is at its best — this pipeline would negate all that we have revitalized,” Middletown Mayor Tony Perry said. “This project would provide no practical use to the people of the Bayshore all the while exposing the coastal communities to the potential environmental impacts. Now that Governor Cuomo has made his opposition to the pipeline clear, it is now incumbent on Governor Murphy to deny the needed permits to construct this pipeline.”

“For the past 10 years, Aberdeen has taken environmental issues very seriously,” Aberdeen Mayor Fred Tagliarini said. “The Municipal Government has gone Solar, we have brought a new Sewer System to a part of town that was in need, we are active in the NJ sustainability efforts and recycling efforts. We also passed a resolution  to ban fracking waste to be transported across state lines.Therefore taking a position against this latest assault against our precious Ocean is easy.” 

“Monmouth County’s shoreline and seascape are essential to our tourism industry, which draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year and generates millions of dollars for our economy,” Freeholders Gerry Scharfenberger and Tom Anone said in a joint statement. “We cannot risk any threat to this important resource — especially from a project that by all accounts, will have no discernable benefit for New Jersey.”

“It took decades of hard work and millions of dollars to improve and restore the bay,” Highlands Council President Rosemary Ryan said. This unnecessary and unwanted pipeline will destroy the lucrative tourism that greatly helps the local economy of Bayshore towns like Highlands. The state must deny the permits and protect the Bayshore.” 

“This proposed fracked gas pipeline, the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project is wanton environmental vandalism on Raritan Bay’s aquatic life, recreational fishing, tourism and scenic waterfronts without a proven need,” Holmdel Deputy Mayor Michael Nikolis said. “We have a moral and ethical responsibility to our children’s children and future generations to protect our precious natural resources from unnecessary harm.  I join the 10,000+ residents that are opposed to this project and urge the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to deny the permit applications for this project.”

Clean Ocean Action’s take: scientific research, background and facts on the history of the Raritan Bay area, the NESE Pipeline’s potential impact and environmentalists’ involvement in the fight

The History of the Raritan Bay

For years, the water quality of the Raritan Bay has been a topic of disappointment. Industrial pollution, toxic dumping and mismanagement left the bay polluted and resulted beach closures as well as fishing and shell-fishing restrictions. However, recent investments and efforts from non-profits, local governments and the states have seen improvements. Aware of the untapped potential of the Raritan Bay as a resource, millions of dollars have been invested in improving the quality of the water. Due to such efforts, the Raritan Bay has slowly improved health, which has not gone unnoticed. 

Whales, seals, birds and other wildlife are flourishing; recreational and commercial fishing is improving and expanding; tourism and coastal communities along the shore are thriving, especially after Superstorm Sandy. More recently, a pair of humpback whales was spotted in the bay over Memorial Day weekend.

NESE’s Potential to Harm the Life of the Bay and Ocean 

Impacts from the proposed project pulled citizens together to protect the Raritan Bay and the ocean to avoid destroying years of improvement at the end of the three-year battle against the pipeline. Harm to the Raritan Bay will result in damage to the air, land and water quality of the area given the route of the Williams Transco Northeast Supply Enhancement project (NESE). Permit applications in New Jersey are still pending and the final decision will be made in June.

“The Raritan Bay and ocean are our life and our livelihoods,” said David Tauro, manager of the Belford Seafood Cooperative, Belford, NJ.  “We  are the only commercial fishing port left in the region. We supply healthy seafood to millions of people, this project will contaminate your food, and put us out of business.”

In 2016, plans were submitted by Williams Transco to construct the project, including the 23.4 mile underwater section that would rip apart the Raritan Bay to bring fracked natural gas to New York. The construction, COA contends, would alter climate and re-suspend buried toxic sediment, destroying the water quality, killing marine life, and destroying clean ocean economies that many depend upon. The project would also require large land-based facilities and construction including a massive compressor station in Franklin Township that, COA says, will result in significant air pollution and cause serious safety risks to communities.

New York’s Recent Decision Failed to Permanently Deny the Project

On May 15, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) denied a water quality certificate that the company needs to develop the pipeline. While this was a victory for climate activists and all those that love and depend on the Bay, it was not the end of this story. The denial, “without prejudice” left the door open for the company to reapply for the permit, which they did less than 48 hours later. Despite the strong language of the denial from the NYDEC, Williams views the concerned raised by the department as “a discrete technical issue.” 

New Jersey and its Power to End the Battle

Governor Murphy and his New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) must make a final decision on the project in the next few weeks. A permanent denial will stop the project.

“Williams quick resubmissions shows why we need decisive action on this issue” Clean Ocean Action Policy Attorney Peter Blair said. “Our bay, ocean, marine life, and coastal communities will not be safe until this project is permanently denied. We need Governor Murphy and the NJDEP to follow the law and end this unprecedented attack on clean water and our climate.”

The NJDEP must make a decision on the first set of permits by June 5.  A decision on the water quality certification must be made before June 20.

A Plea to NJ/NY Governors to Act Now or lose Authority

While both New York and New Jersey continue reviewing permits, the clock may be running out on their ability to assert control over the pipeline. On April 10, President Trump signed an executive order that seeks to limit states’ authority to block construction of pipelines like NESE. The Executive Order specifically targets Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, which requires companies to obtain certifications from the state before they can build federally-approved pipelines, within that state’s borders. Both New York and New Jersey currently have authority under Section 401 over the NESE pipeline, but it is unclear whether this will change in the coming months.

“What happens in Raritan Bay effects the ocean,” Mid-Atlantic Regional Manager for the Surfrider Foundation John Weber said. “We can’t let this project impact this area that is seeing more ocean life and vibrancy than it has in years. Governor Murphy should reject this pipeline once and for all.”

“Governor Murphy needs to stand up and protect the environment and public safety by having DEP deny Transco’s permits,” NJ Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said. “If he cares about reducing GHG’s, moving to 100% renewable energy, protecting our waterways and bays, then he must have DEP deny these permits. The project would cut through the already polluted and sensitive Raritan Bay and the New York Bay and doesn’t meet the 401 Water Quality Certificate. This is a big test for Governor Murphy. Will he be like Governor Cuomo and do the right thing, or will he side with the fossil fuel industry over the people. This is his last chance to do what’s right on the NESE project.”  

“The Raritan Bay fracked gas pipeline and Princeton-area compressor engine would fuel climate change, further toxify our air & water with cancer causing chemicals, endanger surrounding communities, and impact sensitive marine life in our Bay,” NJ Food & Water Watch Organizer Junior Romero said. “Fracked gas infrastructure that will last more than 50 years. The NESE pipeline will be Murphy’s Gas Pipeline if he makes the wrong decision on his legacy.”

— Edited press release from Clean Ocean Action