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PennEast proposes measures to reduce disturbance at historic Native American sites

Highlights

Evidence of human habitation estimated dated between 5500 and 5000 B.C.

Horizontal directional drilling, conventional boring rejected

Houston — PennEast Pipeline has announced plans to minimize the impact of construction through three areas along the pipeline's route in Pennsylvania found to contain evidence of early Native American habitation, with one site holding artifacts estimated to be about 7,000 years old.

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An internal memorandum filed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Thursday cites a filing the pipeline company made with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

In the filing, PennEast said it would conduct a data recovery and analysis program, approved by the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office, within the 50-foot-wide permanent pipeline easement at three Pennsylvania sites, in Northampton, Carbon, and Luzerne counties.

The three sites included areas of potential historical effects encompassing about 1,588 acres.

In Luzerne County, on a site measuring about five acres, preliminary studies found deeply buried evidence of Native American habitation dating back to between about 5500 and 5000 B.C. Wood charcoal found at the Carbon County site produced a radiocarbon date calibrated between 2133 and 1921 B.C., while the Northampton County site produced artifacts such as chipped stone tools and fire-cracked rock, evidence of habitation in the area.

The developers of the about 116-mile pipeline, with about 78 miles of pipe in Pennsylvania and 38 miles in New Jersey, did not find any areas of historic concern along the New Jersey stretch of line.

Potential types of disturbance from pipeline construction on the sites "will include 'open-cut' excavation of soils for pipeline construction and placement, the removal of topsoil in a 50-foot-wide permanent easement, as well as potential soil disturbance and compaction related to the movement of construction vehicles on the sites."

TIMBER MATTING ON ACCESS ROADS

To minimize disturbance to the sites, PennEast said it would employ timber matting in the access road workspaces "to prevent soil disturbances resulting from construction vehicle rutting, and soil compaction from construction traffic and topsoil stockpiling."

The pipeline company had studied the use of other pipeline construction techniques, including horizontal directional drilling and conventional boring, to mitigate the impact to the sites, but had rejected these alternatives as not being feasible.

"HDD was found to have a very high risk of failure based on soil types, soil/bedrock transition zones, as well as the presence of historical anthracite coal mine works within the area," PennEast said. The pipeline company determined that using conventional boring to tunnel under the sites also was not practical, given the length of the sites.

Like similar projects under consideration to carry gas from the producing regions of the Appalachian Basin to markets further downstream, PennEast has faced a host of environmental and regulatory challenges on its way to being built.

FERC issued its certificate order for the project January 19, 2018. On February 1, 2019, PennEast filed an application to amend the certificate. The pipeline developers proposed a series of changes to the project route in Pennsylvania and FERC is currently reviewing the proposed amended route under a supplemental environmental assessment.

Earlier this month, the 1.1 Bcf/d project resubmitted its Freshwater Wetlands Permit application to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for review and approval.

"The application affirms the initial finding by federal regulators that the PennEast Pipeline can be built and operated in a way that meets or exceeds modern safety standards and is safe for the environment," the company said in a statement.

"PennEast Pipeline is looking to begin construction in 2020," spokeswoman Patricia Kornick said Thursday in an interview. "After approximately seven months of construction the pipeline will be operational. We're building multiple spreads simultaneously."

-- Jim Magill, jim.magill@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Valarie Jackson, newsdesk@spglobal.com