FERC Holds Final Say In Controversial Franklin Gas Compressor Plan

Credits: Charles W. Kim photos

FRANKLIN, NJ – Even with two townships opposing the Williams Companies plan to build a 32,000 horsepower natural gas compressor station on land owned by Trap Rock Quarry on Route 27, it is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that will have the final say, an agency spokesman said Friday.

“FERC has exclusive jurisdiction over interstate facilities and that’s under the (federal) Natural Gas Act,” FERC Spokesman Tamara Young-Allen said in a telephone interview Friday. “(Opposition by the townships) cannot stop the project.”

South Brunswick’s Township Council unanimously passed a resolution last month opposing the planned station, known as 206, from being built on a site in the Trap Rock Quarry on the Franklin Township side of Route 27, just a half-mile from housing developments off Promenade Boulevard.

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Franklin Township is in the process of drafting a similar resolution after hundreds of people packed a meeting there Wednesday night to hear Williams’ plans and to comment on the proposed expansion of the Transco Pipeline.

Williams, who runs the pipeline from the Gulf of Mexico to New York, is looking to expand its operation with a loop that would end up supplying 1.8 million people in Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and Long Island in New York City.

National Grid, who asked Williams for the loop to bring more natural gas into the region, serves those people.

The planned expansion and delivery of gas into the city is part of a plan to pivot those residents from oil and coal to the cleaner fossil fuel, company representatives said.

Station 206, which could be built in one of two locations on Trap Rock land, would serve in the same manner as an electrical transformer station to propel the gas through the pipe, Williams representatives said.

While Allen said that the federal agency reserves final say, and that she could not comment specifically on this project, it does give equal weight to all comments on the proposed expansion project.

“Our staff will consider all comments submitted in and make a decision,” she said. “All comments have equal weight.”

She also said that Williams is very early in the pre-application process and has not yet filed a formal application on the project with the agency.

Williams is currently reaching out to residents, communities and stakeholders that would be impacted by the plan as it prepares that formal application.

Part of that outreach brought representatives to New Jersey in order to hold a public information session in Somerset earlier this summer and to the two presentations at the township council meetings in both communities.

Hundreds of residents, about 300-400, attended each of those meetings, spilling overflow crowds into the lobbies of both municipal buildings.

Residents expressed concerns about the safety of the facility and questioned Williams on the impacts of the station on noise, health risks, contamination of the water and soil, as well as dangers from fires and explosions.

Princeton Walk resident Lucia Dlugacz spoke to a Williams representative in the lobby while the presentation was going on.

She said that while the representative tried to ease her concerns about the project, she is still worried about the negative effects the planned station would have on her family.

“As a mother of two children, both of whom I encourage to play outside, I feel very uncomfortable having a compressor station within a one-mile radius,” she said. “I am essentially surrounded (by both proposed sites). One, by a Superfund (site) that already has polluted the water, and now possibly by this.”

She said she told the representative that the construction of the station, itself, could end up polluting the underground water supply.

“There is a creek that comes down from Trap Rock and goes down through my neighborhood,” she said. “As a result, I think the underground water is a significant issue.”

In addition to the many members of the public offering comments to the Franklin Township Council, representatives of state officials and environmental groups also took their turns at the microphone.

Jamie Zaccaria, outreach coordinator for the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club environmental group questioned the facts Williams presented during the meeting.

“In our dealings with Transco, we have not seen a lot of honesty,” Zaccaria said. “We have not seen a lot of following proper procedure.”

She echoed the sentiments of many people speaking that the expansion would not impact the gas delivery locally and only benefit people in the city with all the risk being shouldered by the residents near the station.

“I think that when we say the phrase, ‘New York gets the gas, Transco gets the money, and you guys (the local communities) get the consequences,’ I think that is very true,” Zaccaria said as the room erupted with applause.

During Friday’s interview, FERC Spokesman Allen said, however, that local gas distributors like New Jersey Natural Gas and Public Service Electric and Gas, could ask Transco and Williams to amend the application to be able to buy some of what is being pumped through the expanded line.

Allen also pointed to recent studies for similar projects that show how safe these facilities and transmission lines are when compared to other types of fuels and also events that cause injury or death.

According to an Environmental Impact Statement for a similar project filed with FERC last month, a total of two people a year die as a result of a gas transmission pipeline accident, based on the period from 1996-2015.

That compared to 14 people a year from the local gas distribution lines that run to homes and businesses, according to the report.

Those numbers based on more than 300,000 miles of natural gas pipelines and are also compared to 72 deaths by tornados, 49 by lightning and 3,391 by drowning, according to the report.

The report also lays out the safety features that must go into these projects including how deep the pipes must be buried depending on the number of homes in proximity to the station.

Franklin may vote on its resolution opposing the project at its next meeting in September, officials said.

In the meantime, members of the public can go to the FERC website and comment on the plan.

As of Friday afternoon, around 80 comments were left regarding this project.

The process, company representatives said, will likely take about three years to complete and it is hoped to have the project completed and serving gas to the city by the 2019-2020 heating season, company officials said.

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