Energy. Environment. Economy.

In New Jersey, open space sacrificed for cheaper natural gas

Farmer Rob Fulper stretches his arms out to show the path of a pipeline underneath his corn field in West Amwell, NJ.


Farmer Rob Fulper stretches his arms out to show the path of a natural gas pipeline that runs under one of his corn fields in West Amwell, NJ.

Open space is a rare commodity in New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the country.

The New Jersey Conservation Foundation says a proposed natural gas pipeline could cut through about 4,500 acres of undeveloped land preserved with public dollars.

If built, backers of the PennEast pipeline say it would feed cleaner fuel to power plants and bring cheaper gas to customers.

Now, the pipeline is forcing residents in the state’s highly-valued bucolic communities to weigh the environmental costs of moving natural gas to the marketplace.

“They can’t cross my farm now”

If you ever visit Rob Fulper’s 100-year-old family farm in West Amwell, New Jersey or meet his troupe of inquisitive dairy cows, you’ll see why they call it the Garden State. The farm is nestled into the Sourland Mountain ridge in Western New Jersey and feels light-years away from the state’s congested suburbs.

About 360 acres of Fulper’s farm have been preserved with public money used to keep the land free from development for generations to come.

Some of Rob Fulper's dairy cows peek out over a fence.


Some of Rob Fulper's dairy cows peek out over a fence.

Several feet below some of his fields are two pipelines. They were laid during World War II to move crude oil from the Gulf Coast up to the Northeast, decades before these tracts were preserved.

Today, these pipelines move natural gas.

In the summer, when the weather is hot and dry, Fulper said he can see the results of the extra heat the pipelines throw off.

“The corn over top of these pipelines was withered up and basically yielded very low yields in this area,” he said, stretching his arms out to show where the brown strips of dried corn stretched across the field last summer.

When Fulper first got a letter that another pipeline company wanted to cross through his land, he shrugged it off.

“They can’t cross my farm now – it’s preserved,” he thought to himself.

But soon, Fulper learned that pipelines are allowed through preserved lands and he worried this new pipeline could ruin more of his crops.

The proposed PennEast pipeline would travel 114 miles from Luzerne County in Northeast Pennsylvania to hook up with other major pipelines near Trenton.

Fulper is not entirely opposed to the PennEast pipeline.

“I’m not naïve to the fact that hey – we need to move energy, we need to have our own energy. It’s a good thing,” he said. “Obviously, whenever you put a pipeline in next to somebody’s property, it’s tough for them, so they’re the losers.”

“If you’re gonna burn a fossil fuel, natural gas is the one to burn” 

So who are the winners?

Recently, PennEast backers gathered New Jersey businesspeople in a hotel ballroom in Trenton to make their case for the pipeline.

A map of the route of the PennEast Pipeline as of April 2015.

Courtesy of PennEast Pipeline LLC

A map of the route of the PennEast Pipeline as of April 2015.

Opposition to the project has been strongest in New Jersey. But New Jersey customers stand to benefit the most, according to Pete Terranova who heads up the consortium of companies behind the pipeline – including five local gas and electric utilities.

Here’s Terranova’s pitch:

The pipeline would supply some power plants in the region with natural gas, which releases less carbon dioxide than burning coal.

It would also give local utilities enough gas to keep prices down during cold winter months when demand is highest and to help more customers switch from more expensive heating oil. That includes some towns along the pipeline’s path that currently do not receive natural gas service.

Getting that gas straight from the Marcellus Shale via pipeline, Terranova says, is good not only for his bottom line, but also his customers and the environment.

“If you’re gonna burn a fossil fuel, natural gas is the one to burn – it’s not coal, it’s not oil, it’s natural gas and the price is very competitive which is why people want it,” he said. “So I think that it’s up to us to get that natural gas from the closest place you can produce it to the markets that are very nearby because the cost will come down.”

“Do you need all these pipelines?”

Katherine Dresdner and Patty Cronheim aren’t buying it.

Like the farmer, Rob Fulper, they don’t think pipeline companies should be allowed to cut through farms, parks and other areas that have been protected from development through state and local bond issues.

Dresdner is an attorney for a citizens group in Hopewell Township, New Jersey that is mulling a lawsuit against PennEast to keep the pipeline off preserved lands.

“It’s a violation of the easements and the covenants that preserved those lands,” she said.

A local land trust estimates the PennEast pipeline will cut through more than $37 million worth of preserved open space.

The tradeoff isn’t worth it to Cronheim. She’s also concerned that the pipeline will cross right under the Delaware River and some of the state’s cleanest streams.

Cronheim thinks the real plan is to sell that gas for a higher price in countries like India and Japan.

“Someone’s going to be paying for these pipelines,” she said, “Not just the PennEast pipeline, but all of these pipelines together and a lot of this gas is going to be going overseas.”

The possibility of natural gas exports have become a key talking point for environmental groups fighting this and other proposed pipelines who want to raise suspicion that companies like PennEast are not being truthful about their intentions.

Sami Yahya, an analyst with Bentek Energy, says it is unlikely that any of the gas that would flow through PennEast would be destined for export since the pipeline is backed by local utility companies looking for more efficient access to the Marcellus Shale.

“Here’s the tricky part: is this gas needed? Do you need all these pipelines? Not really,” Yahya said.

The East Coast is experiencing a pipeline-building boom. PennEast is one of at least six other pipeline projects proposed for New Jersey alone as drillers push to get their gas to markets as far as New England where prices spike during times of high demand.

However, Yahya is concerned that the rush to build new pipelines will eventually lead to what he calls an “oversupply situation.”

“It’s kind of like someone blew a whistle, they need some help and we have the rest of the world trying to help them,” he said.

The new route of the PennEast pipeline would cross Angele Switzler's farm in Delaware Township, New Jersey. The company wants to site the pipeline along the power lines that border her property.


The new route of the PennEast pipeline would cross Angele Switzler’s farm in Delaware Township, New Jersey. The company wants to site the pipeline along the power lines that border her property.

“I would like to be reassured that it is for the greater good”

Since the pipeline was proposed last August, PennEast has changed the proposed route to run at least halfway along existing utility lines and avoid some preserved lands.

That change spared Rob Fulper’s farm.

“I’m relieved that they’re looking at another potential site, but now I realize there’s other landowners that are now in the path of this pipeline,” he said, “I just don’t want to feel like I pushed a problem to somebody else.”

Somebody else like Angele Switzler, who got a letter just before Christmas that PennEast now plans to build the pipeline on a new easement next to the power lines that run along the edge of her farm in Delaware Township, New Jersey, which is not preserved.

Switzler has no problem with the power lines – a large solar array on her property is connected to the electrical grid.

“So I know that’s benefitting our community,” she said.

She doesn’t feel that way about the pipeline.

“I would like to be reassured that it is for the greater good because it doesn’t seem like it,” she said. “This is just something that’s driven by economics of a big corporation, not need.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Agency or FERC will ultimately decide whether sacrificing that open space is worth the promise of cheap gas. PennEast plans to submit an application to FERC this summer in hopes of putting the pipeline in service in 2017.

Many landowners are struggling with the costs and benefits of letting a pipeline company onto their property.

If FERC approves the PennEast pipeline, they can negotiate a one-time fee for the use of her land – possibly in the hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars.

But Switzler, who will be able to watch the construction from the floor-to-ceiling windows in her living room, points to the five huge blue spruce trees she and her husband planted when her son was born 21 years ago. If the PennEast pipeline is built, they’ll probably have to be cut down.

She doesn’t think it’ll be worth the sacrifice.


  • Angele Macy Switzler

    This article as it pertains to me does not describe how I feel about this pipeline,I AM ABSOLUTELY SURE THERE IS NO BENEFIT TO THIS PIPELINE. A benefit was never even mentioned by me, AND NO AMOUNT OF MONEY WOULD EVER PERSUADE ME THAT THERE IS A BENEFIT.

    • Angrywhitey

      So how do you get power/heat?

      • Angele Macy Switzler

        I have a solar array and a double combustion wood stove that emits the same amount of carbons as a tree decaying. Alas our woodland lost so many trees in Sandy, that I could heat our home for a few years at the very least.

      • mwamov

        There is no data showing that this gas is needed. The market is already well served by existing infrastructure. Its gas for export.

        • Angrywhitey

          How do people get heating oil delivered when there is 6 feet of snow on the ground? What source of power do you use at night Angele?

  • Bob

    After the pipe is laid you will never know that is is there. The benefits are great for the people who will get a cheaper source of energy.There are several pipe lines near my home and they have never been a problem of any kind in the 50 years I have lived here

    • mwamov

      So who are the people that will benefit? PennEast has not identified any customers that need the gas, or where gas service would be expanded. Certainly, I would not benefit or the others along the route. I do not have gas service and a 7-month construction period will destroy our area of the Poconos struggling to bring home values back up. The route follows the only “highway” in Carbon County, and every visitor will be turned away from what is otherwise a truly beautiful area.

    • Mike H.

      The people of San Bruno CA didn’t know there was a major gas transmission pipeline running through it, until it exploded & burned, killing 8 & destroying dozens of homes. And, there’s been plenty of other gas pipelines failures, with many caused by lack of testing & maintenance by the pipelines.

  • Deborah

    This entire discussion and the proposed pipeline ought to be moot. The era of fossil fuel is over. The gasoline powered engine is obsolete. Instead of financing outmoded ideas, we need to be investing in the infrastructure of the future: sustainable energy that preserves the planet.

    • pjbthree

      And then you woke up.

  • Bert

    The pipelines will eventually be built. Unfortunate that many can only see their own interests in this. Eminent domain is a law for a reason. I understand it isn’t a perfect analogy for this situation but the fact remains the vast majority of NJ residents will benefit.

    • mwamov

      The pipeline has not been demonstrated to serve the public’s interest. There is no data that the gas will benefit consumers or those along the pipeline route.

  • Mary Martin

    We defeated phase 2 of the pipeline here and we’re working on defeating phase 1. Hold your ground; you’re right there is no need for this massive build out of a fossil fuel infrastructure. We all need to switch to renewable energy sources. This pipeline is obsolete before it’s even started.

    • Iris J

      How big is your solar system?

  • Iris J

    Several issues do not seem to be considered in this matter. First of all a substantial amount of “preserved” acreage in New Jersey is absolutely NOT being managed. Specifically the woodlands that are at this point “dead”. The deer have eaten all of the understory and there has been not effort to fence off these woodlands. Neither has there been any major investment in planting sufficient young trees. Drive around and look at these “preserved woodlands”. God forbid there should ever be a fire – the tons of dead wood on the ground is a hazard. Saying that we can replace fossil fuels with solar is not true. We have a very large solar system on our farm but it does not provide enough energy to replace conventional systems. And wood stoves are not the answer either. Pipelines currently exist all over New Jersey. The risk of continuing to move natural gas by tankers or rail is very high and many of the roadways and rails system run through highly populated areas. Many of the farms that have been preserved face the never ending damage from the deer population that eats “everything”. Many family farms are facing the reality that their children and grand-children do not want to continue farming and that begs the question….”who will manage all these preserved farms”. Oversight on farming from all levels of government, usually by people who have NEVER farmed is making it harder and harder for farm families to justify the long hours, extreme conditions and low return on their investment.

    • mwamov

      They move natural gas by tankers and rail? And regarding the management of open space… you should write your legislator to ensure that NJDEP gets the funding they need which has continued to get cut or juggled around by the Governor.

  • karen orlando

    I am confused by this report.

    One picture shows a gentleman holding his arms up and the caption says that he is showing the path of an existing pipeline which one can not see. Another picture shows a woman and says the company wants to site the pipeline along the power lines that border the property. How does either picture relate in any way to the opening sentence about “open space” being a rare commodity in new jersey? Neither picture indicates to me that open space is being lost. Am I missing something?

  • karen orlando

    Is the report about open space being sacrificed for this project or is it about something else? The report reads like it is about something other than the loss of open space for this particular project. Is it about general questions or problems with this project entirely, the need for it, etc including the loss of open space, siting in parks etc? (because that is how it reads)

    What are the siting and maintenance requirements for pipelines? Have the people you interviewed been made aware of them?

  • pjbthree

    These StateImpact reports are about as fair and balanced as Fox News. This back story of rural elites blocking urban employment is completely ignored because it runs counter to the upscale white public radio trope. I wouldn’t be surprised if Big Coal is supporting a dog in this fight

    • E.j. May

      Many of these “rural elites” are farming families who have been here for five generations and some of whom have been feeding this State since the Revolution. They could have sold to Toll Brothers and moved comfortably to Naples Florida, but instead, they decided to preserve the land for all to enjoy. I personally know many of them and they are heart broken that their land will now be torn up, swaths of wooded land stripped bare and for little remuneration for their loss.

  • E.j. May

    There is already too much NG in the domestic market now. The spot price for NG is so low that many of these rigs have been shut down and workers have been sent home. The industry is now in a race to the nearest shipping point and Penn East has the geographic advantage of being only 130 miles from Marcus Hook, NJ. Let’s be honest, this gas is going to Europe and Asia, where there is a much greater demand for a higher price. Corporate profit for private property is the theme here. The property owners who are having their land taken don’t even use NG and the affected communities don’t now and never will have the infrastructure to use it.

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