TGP NJ pipeline expansion can still be stopped by Governor Phil Murphy

Brian D. Scanlan and Sam DiFalco

For the past two years, communities across North Jersey have organized to stop a dangerous pipeline expansion that threatens public safety, clean water and clean air. Despite public outcry and ongoing legal challenges, federal regulators recently allowed the company to begin construction.

Despite this setback, Governor Phil Murphy still has the power to stop this dangerous scheme.

In the summer of 2020, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company LLC, a subsidiary of Texas-based Kinder Morgan, applied for permits for a massive expansion of its existing pipeline system running through North Jersey. TGP is looking to triple the size of its compressor station at Wantage and build a new one in the protected Highlands region of West Milford, on a site just 1,200ft from Monksville Reservoir, which supplies drinking water to millions of New Jersey residents. The project will deliver larger volumes of fractured gas at higher pressure through an aging pipeline system to Westchester County, New York.

In the two years since these permit applications were filed, local residents and environmental activists across the state have called on Murphy to stop this reckless and unnecessary expansion. Seven municipalities facing risks from this program have passed resolutions opposing the project, and more than 70 health professionals have written to the governor regarding the health and safety risks of compressor stations and the danger they pose for surrounding communities.

Residents affected:Demonstration planned in West Milford as gas pipeline upgrades begin

Earlier this year, an accident at TGP’s Wantage compressor station blew an uncontrolled plume of toxic gas into the air for 70 minutes, prompting numerous 911 calls and forcing residents to rush inside. This event was frightening but not exceptional; according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, between 2006 and 2017, TGP experienced 111 significant incidents with its pipelines, resulting in property damage of $89,815,380 and 19 federal enforcement actions.

Much of TGP’s pipeline is 65 years old, 15 years past its useful life. Yet TGP wants to triple the amount of fractured gas forced through this pipeline, putting the health and safety of residents at risk. Leaks, explosions and accidents along the pipeline are to be expected. One such event occurred in July along that same pipeline in Pennsylvania, when a burst section of pipe caused an explosion and fire that burned five acres before it could be brought under control.

Murphy regularly gives lofty speeches about the urgent need to address the climate crisis. But a serious climate program would mean stopping new fossil fuel projects; instead, the Murphy administration’s Department of Environmental Protection approved permit after permit. Only one permit remains and TGP has been given the green light to begin construction. All the while, the Governor has never publicly acknowledged that this project even exists.

Nevertheless, Murphy can still meet his environmental commitments and stop this project. During his first term, he championed his energy master plan to combat what he called our state’s “century-old addiction to fossil fuels,” setting a goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2040. More recently, the governor signed an executive order calling for a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030, and a requirement for builders to consider the impacts of climate change if they want their projects to be approved. New Jersey is already off track to meet those goals, and things could get worse if Murphy continues to approve dirty energy expansion plans. Seven major new fossil fuel projects are proposed in our state, which could create a substantial increase in climate pollution.

With his promises to expand offshore wind, introducing the nation’s first climate program for public schools, and signing the nation’s toughest environmental justice law, Murphy can leave a strong legacy as a climate champion. But he can’t have it both ways. If Murphy allows TGP to proceed with this pipeline expansion, he will be sacrificing the health and safety of his constituents and our shared responsibility to quickly address the climate crisis.

Murphy can still stop this project. But we are running out of time.

Brian D. Scanlan is a former Mayor and Alderman of Wyckoff.

Sam DiFalco is an organizer with the advocacy group Food & Water Watch.

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