Environmentalists opposed to the construction of a natural gas pipeline in Northeast Pennsylvania are pinning their hopes on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to halt the project.
“The Army Corps of Engineers could make a big difference here,” said Faith Zerbe, a field biologist with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
The Riverkeeper Network opposes the construction of an expanded Tennessee Gas Pipeline, a 13,900-mile interstate line that transports natural gas from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast region of the U.S. The Tennessee Gas Pipeline Northeast Upgrade project would add almost 40 miles of additional pipeline in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to transport Marcellus Shale gas to the lucrative East Coast market.
Last week, two protestors locked themselves to the gates of the Delaware State Forest, seeking to block tree-felling begun by Kinder Morgan, the parent company of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline. This week, two activists are “tree-sitting,” in order to halt the project. At a demonstration Tuesday in front of the Army Corps’ headquarters in Center City Philadelphia, protestors said they want the federal agency to take a more active role in watch-dogging natural gas pipeline construction in the Delaware River Basin.
“These are the first direct actions about this issue,” said Iris Marie Bloom, from the group Protecting Our Waters. “And it’s an historic level of resistence, it’s not just public marches anymore. We have an uprising on our hands.”
Although the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has granted permits for the pipeline to move forward, including the cutting of trees, another federal agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has yet to issue the necessary fresh water wetland permits. Those permits would pave the way for the actual trench digging needed to lay the expanded pipeline.
“They’d have to blast through high-quality and exceptional value streams,” said the Riverkeeper’s biologist Faith Zerbe. “And cut through [forested] areas that have had no impact, creating forest fragmentation.”
Zerbe says the company has demonstrated sloppiness in building another section of the expansion, known as the “300 line.” She says soil compaction remains, which results in greater run-off. And the re-planted trees, she adds, were too tiny to withstand the appetites of hungry deer populations.
“There are plenty of examples where [the Tennessee Gas Pipeline company] devastated the land with the 300 line,” said Zerbe. She says she’s sending detailed field reports she collects to the Corps.
Meanwhile, the pipeline company, Kinder Morgan, remains tight-lipped and won’t respond to questions about remediation, the protests, or the possibility that the Corps could kill the project if it decides not to issue the wetland permits.
A representative for the Army Corps of Engineers says the agency is still reviewing the application.
“That’s still an open question,” said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Richard Pearsall. “We’re evaluating these projects.”