The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last Friday that the Delaware River Basin Commission has decided, at the request of over 50 environmental organizations – and in a reversal of a December, 2012 decision - to review two completed natural-gas-pipeline projects in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Both projects - interstate lines built in Pike and Wayne Counties by Columbia Gas Transmission and Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. - have been completed, but their sponsors would need to apply for permits.
The Inquirer story noted that four pipeline projects had been built in the basin since 2011 and seven were planned, with the potential for six more.
The rules of the DRBC specifically exclude natural gas pipeline projects from commission review; however, both projects went through a public recreation area - the Delaware State Forest - that had been incorporated into the DRBC's comprehensive plan. That is one of the exceptions in DRBC rules that triggers a review.
This is an important development. As I wrote here, pipeline projects have the potential, if poorly executed, to cause big erosion and sedimentation problems that needlessly threaten waterways. They also cause significant habitat fragmentation, and emissions from compressor stations are a significant source of air pollution. Indeed, The Nature Conservancy has found that the cumulative impacts from pipeline development in Pennsylvania will likely exceed the impact from well pads and roads.
With the very real prospect of tens of thousands of miles of new pipelines – intra- as well as inter-state – being built in Pennsylvania in the coming decades, the DRBC (and other regulatory bodies) should, in my view, broaden their oversight to include careful review of all pipeline projects.