PRINCETON: Pipeline plan safety is questioned

Princeton residents on Wednesday expressed deep concerns about the safety of a proposed natural gas pipeline project through town that would go through the Princeton Ridge.

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
   Princeton residents on Wednesday expressed deep concerns about the safety of a proposed natural gas pipeline project through town that would go through the Princeton Ridge.
   About 16 people attended a forum the town had for those who could not attend a hearing June 13 in Hillsborough before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the body that must decide whether to allow the project. The ones who wanted to give official comments had their remarks recorded, with the town saying the comments would be sent to FERC.
   Oklahoma-based Williams Company already operates an older Texas to New York “Transco” pipeline that runs in Princeton, and now wants to lay new 42 inch pipeline to increase its capacity to transport natural gas from the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania.
   The project, encompassing 28.75 miles in parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, would go through about 1.5 miles of Princeton and then into Montgomery. But Princeton resident Grace Sinden said she is concerned that Williams has said its current natural gas pipeline would continue operating while the new one is installed.
   ”To me and others this is unacceptable for near-term safety as well as the long-term safety of retaining in operation a pipeline that is already 55 years old and which was constructed with now outmoded technology as well as uncertain testing,” she said.
   Ms. Sinden also said blasting to install the pipeline “is extremely dangerous in the sensitive environment of the Princeton Ridge with its huge boulders and occupied homes and schools.”
   Picking up on that theme, Laura Lynch of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club also raised the blasting issue in part of her remarks.
   ”To achieve the depth required for a new pipeline, blasting of the diabase rock will be required. This poses unique safety hazards because of the proximity to an aging but active natural gas line,” Ms. Lynch said.
   A Williams representative was not at the meeting. Through a spokesman, the company said this week that it could not say whether blasting would be necessary.
   ”Blasting may be required for this project, but we won’t know for sure until actual excavation begins. Geotechnical surveys will be conducted to help determine the need for blasting,” said spokesman Christopher L. Stockton in an email Thursday.
   ”All attempts will be made to excavate through encountered rock by utilizing rock digging equipment like backhoes equipped with ripping teeth or hammers,” he continued. “In the event the typical rock removal equipment is not successful, blasting will be considered as a means in which to remove the rock.”
   Some at the meeting urged municipal government to play a greater role by hiring a special attorney and getting more directly involved. So far, officials have not said whether they intend to file as intervener, a move that would make the municipality a party in the administrative process before FERC for Williams’ expected application. Also, the town would have the ability to appeal a decision by FERC in federal court.
   For her part, Mayor Liz Lempert, who was at Wednesday’s meeting, would not commit the town to taking such a step. She said the town wants “to be most effective in what we do.”
   Williams is expected to file an application in September.