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Major Fire in the Pines is Another Reason to Say NO to Pipelines

press release July 28, 2017

A 3,500-acre fire that started last week a spread through the Pinelands for six days. The fire became the largest in this region in the last ten years. Officials state that lightning strikes caused the fire which left acres of Pinelands burned. Fires are a natural and common part of this area. However, with the increase in gas infrastructure such pipelines being proposed across the Pinelands, the Sierra Club is concerned that future forest fires could become disasters if they came in contact with a gas pipeline such as South Jersey Gas or New Jersey Natural Gas’s Southern Reliability Link.


“In the Pinelands region, forest fires are a naturally occurring event as part of the ecosystem. There are dozens of forest fires each year, some of which can be extremely large such as this one. Putting massive gas pipelines through the Forest Preservation Areas is a disaster waiting to happen. The two pipelines are proposed to cut through areas where the fires occur over and over again,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The Governor is rolling back protections in the Pinelands: allowing for more development and pushing for more sewer extension and pipelines in the Pinelands. His Administration is trying to turn the Pinelands into the Pipelands. Putting these pipelines through the Pinelands is like putting a blowtorch in your backyard.”


Rolling Stone’s 2016 article warns that America’s worst forest fire could happen right here in New Jersey. The Pinelands is a 1.1-million-acre tract of land and routinely burns as part of the natural ecosystem process. The article discusses the potential for a deadly blaze if the conditions are right. While this may seem overly exaggerated, the constant push for fossil fuel infrastructure and other development in the Pinelands makes it a very real possibility.


“The wild fire situation laid out by Rolling Stone is the worst-case scenario and it most likely will not happen. However, it could and if it did half a million people would be put at risk. There have been over 20 fires in the last centuries that covered 100,000 wildfires in the Pinelands over the past century. 20 of them covered more than 1,000 acres. In 1963, 190,000 acres caught on fire in the largest in state history. Forest fires are getting worse and bigger because of the drying out of the aquifers due to over-pumping,” said Jeff Tittel. “We will make the worst case scenario more likely if we keep over-pumping the aquifers, drying out the wetlands and forests, building in the middle of the Pinelands and changing the ecology. If we put the South Jersey Gas or New Jersey Natural Gas pipelines in these areas these pipes could rupture if the area is on fire and then it could the worst case scenario.”


In 2015, there was a fire at a portion of the TransCanada pipeline in Minnesota. People could see flames miles away and at least two homes were evacuated. This is just the latest example of many dangerous situations caused by natural gas pipelines.  Pipeline explosions have impacted communities around the country. The explosion in Edison in the early 1990’s destroyed a housing complex and injured close to 100 people. 12 campers were killed in Carlsbad, New Mexico when a pipeline exploded at a campground.  There are dozens of incidents every year across the country. In 2013, an incident occurred at their pipeline in Branchburg, New Jersey, injuring 13 workers.  Last year, Transco experienced two major incidents at pipeline facilities.  In West Virginia, a pipeline exploded burning down 2 acres of forest.  In Wyoming, a pipeline caught on fire resulting in the evacuation of 95 residents. Also in 2014, a housing complex exploded in Ewing after a gas line was struck.


“Natural gas pipeline incidents across the country should be a warning on what happens when one of these pipelines catch on fire. This is especially concerning when the proposed area is one that often has natural forest fires. Putting a pipeline through the backyards of so many people is like putting a potential blowtorch next to everyone’s home. The only jobs this pipeline will create is for more fire and other emergency responders to deal with potential explosions,” said Jeff Tittel.


The South Jersey Gas pipeline and New Jersey Natural Gas Southern Reliability Link pipeline are two dangerous gas pipelines running through a sensitive ecosystem prone to forest fires. With a history of gas pipeline accidents in the country, we have seen explosions and leaks that cause evacuations, injury and death. Putting these dangerous and volatile pipelines in an ecosystem that habitually experiences forest fires is a tragedy in the making.


“The purpose of the Pinelands Act is to prevent these kind of projects from putting the Pines and people of the Pines at risk. The proposed areas for these pipelines are included in the Forest Preservation Area; these are the places that routinely catch on fire. It is incredibly dangerous to put pipelines in areas that catch on fire regularly. These pipelines will cause long-term damage to the Pinelands and surrounding municipalities. They will run through preserved farms, hurt the environment and can cause devastating effects to communities if they were to catch on fire,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “It’s like playing Russian roulette with a fully loaded gun; it’s only a matter of time until there is a forest fire at one of these pipelines or compressor stations in the Pinelands.”