U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) have asked FERC to investigate concerns raised by several federal agencies over the proposed PennEast natural gas pipeline, including the risk of possible arsenic contamination.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC said the company appreciated the senators’ concerns and that a three-month field study conducted by New Jersey’s leading arsenic expert should allay the contamination concerns.

In a letter to Cheryl LaFleur, acting chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the senators said the issue of arsenic contamination, which was raised by the Department of Interior (DOI), was “of particular concern,” and that PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC needed to be more forthcoming with information on the proposed pipeline’s construction.

“DOI cites ‘confusing’ and ‘contradictory’ statements made by the applicant with regard to the risk of arsenic exposure to groundwater at certain locations along the pipeline route,” the senators said. They added that comments submitted by a geoscience professor at Princeton University and a research geochemist/hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey “raise serious concerns about the potential for groundwater discharge that contains levels of arsenic that will likely exceed the Surface Water Quality Standard for arsenic in stream water.”

The senators said the DOI has called for PennEast to further evaluate the potential exposure by conducting a comprehensive well sampling plan.

“While the applicant acknowledges the potential exposure to arsenic, it has not yet put forth a comprehensive plan to monitor exposure and mitigate impacts such that New Jersey residents can be confident that they would not be exposed to harmful levels of arsenic.”

Booker and Menendez added that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has “raised significant concerns regarding incomplete information on the ‘direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of the proposed action on the environment and public health.'” They said the EPA has recommended that PennEast outline its plans for mitigating methane leaks along the pipeline, minimizing drilling risks and provide more information on surveys, data collection and analysis.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has also called for more information on the potential impacts to federally protected species along the proposed pipeline’s route, including the Bog Turtle and the Indiana Bat.

The 120-mile, mostly 36-inch diameter pipeline would transport 1.11 million Dth/d of eastern Marcellus Shale gas to markets in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. About 36 miles of the pipeline would cross New Jersey.

Last January, FERC staff delayed issuing a final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the pipeline from Feb. 17 to April 7, saying that its staff needed more time to consider additional environmental information for the project [CP15-558]. Six months earlier, FERC determined in its initial environmental assessment that the pipeline would have minimal environmental impact.

Environmental groups praised the senators for sending the letter to LaFleur.

“Sens. Booker and Menendez have rightly pointed out that FERC has yet to fully address a host of critical concerns raised by public agencies and independent scientists regarding the risks that PennEast poses to our health, safety and environment,” said Tom Gilbert, campaign director of ReThink Energy NJ and the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

“The question is whether FERC will pay attention, or will they move ahead with a flawed EIS that fails to evaluate potential contamination of our drinking water, increases in harmful emissions, damage to threatened and endangered species, and other significant environmental impacts.”

Jim Waltman, executive director of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, added that “the very serious concern that this pipeline could release poisonous arsenic into our groundwater has received only lip service from FERC and PennEast.”

But PennEast spokesperson Patricia Kornick told NGI’s Shale Daily that the company “appreciates the input from New Jersey’s two U.S. Senators and shares in their concerns as it relates to safe construction with minimal environmental impact. That abundance of caution is one of the reasons PennEast filed, and FERC approved, a comprehensive well-monitoring plan.

“PennEast also hired New Jersey’s leading arsenic expert to conduct a robust three-month scientific field study that concluded the impacts of PennEast construction would not mobilize naturally occurring arsenic at a level that threatens drinking water supplies. No such study has been conducted that would support the scare tactics and misinformation circulated by opposition groups.”

Kornick added that many of the concerns raised in the senators’ letter “echo those of various cooperating agencies, and fortunately, are incorporated within FERC’s comprehensive review of the project. PennEast appreciates the vote of confidence from two different government regulators under [Democratic] administrations that found, after almost three years of review, PennEast can be built with minimal impacts on the environment.”

PennEast is a joint venture owned by AGL Resources Inc. unit Red Oak Enterprise Holdings Inc. (20%); New Jersey Resources’ NJR Pipeline Co. (20%); South Jersey Industries’ SJI Midstream LLC (20%); UGI Energy Services LLC’s UGI PennEast LLC (20%); PSEG Power LLC (10%); and Spectra Energy Partners LP (10%). The partnership is managed by UGI Energy Services.

Last week, Spectra announced that it had agreed to purchase PSEG’s 10% stake in the project. The deal is subject to the approval of the PennEast board and other conditions. If approved, the deal would close in 2Q2017.