PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC earned a key victory late Friday when a federal judge ruled that the project can access both private and public land to conduct surveys it needs to meet federal and state permitting requirements.

In a long-awaited decision, Judge Brian Martinotti of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey found that PennEast’s certificate order from FERC entitles it to survey access on an “expedited basis.” The ruling allows the company access to 136 properties where landowners had tried to stop the surveys and comes after a similar ruling earlier this month in Pennsylvania, which allowed the company access to the last property it needed there.

“Our immediate next steps are to perform routine land, environmental and other ground-level surveys,” said PennEast Chairman Tony Cox. “These surveys will update and confirm data for certain federal and state permitting guidelines.”

Friday’s ruling also dismissed claims by the New Jersey Attorney General’s office to block access to some properties in which New Jersey has a conservation interest.

“As a result of ongoing engagement with stakeholders, including New Jersey state agencies, PennEast aligned nearly half the New Jersey route with overhead power lines, including across certain preserved lands, to reduce tree clearing and other impacts,” Cox said of the pipeline’s proposed route. “Because impacts to certain preserved parcels must be mitigated under state law, PennEast is allocating millions of new dollars to new open space preservation.” 

PennEast received its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission certificate last January. While it could be a lengthy process to complete the surveys, the project still plans to start construction next year. But it has faced staunch opposition in New Jersey.

The state Department of Environmental Protection denied the company’s water quality certification (WQC) application last year, deeming it incomplete due in part to a lack of landowner permission to survey certain parts of the proposed route. The state has also targeted FERC’s approval of the project. 

The field-level survey data that can now be verified and updated with Friday’s ruling was needed for the WQC application, which is likely to be the project’s next test. Landowners involved in the eminent domain case decried the court's decision and New Jersey environmental groups pledged to keep fighting the project.

PennEast would move more than 1 Bcf/d of shale gas from northeast Pennsylvania to New Jersey. About one-third of the 120-mile pipeline would be located in two New Jersey counties.