Who Lives in the Incineration Zone?

Michael Heffler January 2017

I’m almost certain that executives of gas and oil companies don’t have pipelines running on their properties.  Working to stop the PennEast pipeline I’ve learned that the area surrounding a pipeline is called an incineration zone.

I recently met with Jacqueline Evans, a resilient, lovely woman with 10-year old twin sons and a 13-year old daughter.  Her farm is on a dirt road in Delaware Township.  She has an organic garden, chickens, sheep and really cute baby goats.   It’s an idyllic setting with a vernal spring and a meadow, just down the road from one of the oldest stone bridges in the state.

Jacqueline exemplifies how adversity builds strength and community.  Her adversity comes from the proposed PennEast pipeline.  PennEast is disrupting lives, threatening our water, cratering local property values and it’s not needed.  If we can stop it from being built the gas it’s proposing to transport will come into New Jersey through existing pipelines.  Over the next decade, New Jersey has roughly 50% more natural gas coming in over existing pipelines than projected demand.

The PennEast pipeline’s proposed route will go right past Jacqueline’s front porch, through her garden and right beside her chicken coop and goat pen.  During construction she won’t be able to use her driveway.  Her children will have to walk by the construction to get home from school.  When we spoke Jacqueline told me:  “I’m not going to sit quietly in the back of the bus when my kids’ lives are threatened by having to live in an incineration zone!”

When I grew up in New York City, apartment buildings had incinerators with roaring fires to burn garbage.  The small metal doors where we dumped our trash into the incinerator were too hot to touch. The door handle was covered in wood.  You held it carefully.  If you scraped your knuckles against the door you’d be scorched.  That was my first exposure to incineration.

My more recent exposure to incineration was seeing the results of the pipeline explosion a few years ago in the little town where Steven Spielberg filmed ET.  Almost everyone in that town suffered injuries, burns and trauma from the flames and explosion that went out hundreds of feet in every direction from the pipeline.

The conservative estimate for the incineration zone around a 36-inch pipeline is 1000 feet in all directions.  How often do gas pipelines explode in the United States?  There were four recorded in 2016 and several a year for many years before that.  There was one in 2015 in Holland Township, not far from Jacqueline’s farm.  The gas companies tell us that pipelines are safe and there’s nothing to worry about.

PennEast is offering landowners on its proposed route as little as possible for their land.  What a pipeline does to the value of property can change your life – for the worse.  Over 70% of the people on the pipeline route have refused to let PennEast survey their land.  All of the mayors of the towns along the pipeline oppose it.  86% of Delaware Township, where Jacqueline lives, oppose the pipeline and have refused to let PennEast survey their properties.  In spite of PennEast’s intimidation tactics the community is sticking together to oppose PennEast.  Here are Jacqueline’s own words:

“The farm I built with my children would be completely destroyed by the 36”, 1480 psi pipe, built to the weakest standards allowable.  The pipeline route is less than 200 feet from my children’s bedrooms putting them in an “incineration zone”. Our well, that provides water for our livestock, and us, is threatened.  It’s less than 100 feet from the line. PennEast has threatened me by insisting I sign a “deal” of less than 4% of the value of our home, or lose it through eminent domain, which they say will pay even less. PennEast’s intimidation tactics include telling us that FERC will approve the pipeline with or without surveys and environmental studies that are required. Strange men in green vests have been photographed trespassing on my property illegally surveying for PennEast, even though I have sent numerous certified letters refusing access. We endured 7 months of low aerial surveying that PennEast publicly denied being part of, until my photos submitted to the FAA resulted in a letter from the FAA confirming PennEast was conducting aerial surveying. It wasn’t until this letter was presented at a Congressional hearing in Washington DC, that the daily flying (from sun up to sundown) subsided.”

Here’s a multi-billion dollar limited liability company, owned by five natural gas companies and PSE&G, trying to intimidate a mother of three young children by threatening her to knuckle under with a low ball bid for her property, sending men to trespass on her property and having helicopters buzz her property for days.  Sounds like just the kind of people you want to trust on their claims of incineration zone safety.  Makes you understand why no gas company executives have pipelines on their properties.

Jacqueline planned to use the equity in her home to pay for her children’s education.  If there’s a pipeline running across the property it will be impossible to sell the home for fair value and get her children out of the incineration zone.  A pipeline on her property will change the financial trajectory of Jacqueline’s life.  If all this wasn’t enough, if they dig deep enough to put in a pipeline there’s the risk of radon contamination.

Jacqueline keeps fighting, getting to the FAA and Congress.  Her kids are very proud of their mom.  We take pride in fighting adversity.  We can’t afford to underestimate its possible harmful results.  Jacqueline used the analogy that the threat of a pipeline on your property is like being told your spouse has cancer.  You can be strong, you can put up a fight, but the result could be devastating.  She’s strong, smart, loves her kids and has heart.  I know she’ll keep fighting.  If you’re inspired please join her by joining or donating to HALT PennEast, NJ Rethink Energy or your local Citizens Against the Pipeline group.

This is part of a series of articles about the communities and people whose lives will be affected by the proposed PennEast pipeline.

About Michael Heffler

Michael Heffler is a Businessman (retired), Author, Bicycling Enthusiast and member of the HALT PennEast Board of Trustees.  He resides in Lambertville, NJ.

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