The hottest NEXUS issue this fall has been the battle over the right to survey.
Many landowners along the proposed 250-mile route of the 36-inch gas transmission line from Columbiana County to Canada have refused to allow surveyors on their land. Spectra Energy, which wants to build the line, has taken the issue to court in county after county across Ohio. Most judges, including Lorain County judge Mark Betletski, have issued temporary restraining orders (without warning the landowners!), allowing Spectra to survey. Medina County judge Christopher Collier required Spectra to prove its case, but still ruled on Oct. 6, “While the court is sympathetic to the defendants’ arguments… (it) is constrained by the plain language of the statutes… (This) is a matter to be addressed to the Ohio legislature.”
The Coalition to Re-route Nexus, composed primarily of landowners within the 600-foot survey corridor, has proposed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission a route that would avoid their property, but there is no evidence that CORN’s arguments for a “safer energy corridor” are gaining traction with FERC.
The city of Oberlin allowed Spectra to survey, but notified the company of our Community Bill of Rights and Obligations Ordinance prohibiting fracked gas infrastructure. Spectra officials appear to be unconcerned, and the proposed NEXUS route still goes just north of the homes on Reserve Street, placing the Splash Zone, the Oberlin fire station, and Welcome Nursing Home within a possible pipeline “blast area.”
In the larger picture, oil and gas production from the fracking of shale gas deposits appears to be following the traditional boom-and-bust pattern, with natural gas entering the bust phase. The price for natural gas is stuck at such a low level that drillers are running out of cash, idling rigs, and taking wells out of production. The shift by utility companies, including the DTE Corporation (formerly Detroit Edison), to generating electricity by burning natural gas instead of coal is helping to keep the bottom from dropping completely out of the market.
At the same time, the business of building new pipelines appears to be booming. DTE is buying a larger share of NEXUS from Spectra Energy and projecting increased profit from its $200 million investment. NEXUS gas must start flowing by November 2017 to fulfill contracts, so the pressure is on the company to get pipe in the ground.
One reason for the pipeline “boom” is the belief by U.S. producers that overseas buyers will pay a high enough price to make the fracking business profitable, so many pipelines are designed to help get gas eventually to an LNG terminal. But even if export limits are lifted, the global market for U.S. fuel stocks is not very promising, especially if Iran re-enters the trade.
The situation is different for so-called “wet gas” such as ethane. In fact the first shipment of Ohio wet gas was recently sent to New Jersey — in specially-designed tank cars, rather than by pipeline — to be shipped to the Netherlands. Several corporations, including companies based in South Korea and Thailand, have taken steps toward constructing multi-billion-dollar “cracker” plants to convert ethane from Utica and Marcellus shale to ethylene for plastics, pharmaceuticals, and other uses. Toxic chemical emissions from such plants are a major threat.
Local control of where fracking can take place and pipelines can be built continues to be an issue.
In September the Ohio Supreme Court ruled, for technical reasons, against ballot proposals in three counties that would have banned fracking and related infrastructure, but the court also determined Ohio Secretary of State John Husted lacked the “unfettered authority” he claimed to keep such home rule charter initiatives off the ballot. And the court did allow the city of Youngstown to proceed with an anti-fracking charter amendment on the November ballot. In the future we can expect even more countywide home rule efforts to block fracking and fracking infrastructure.
Meanwhile, crunch time for NEXUS is approaching. What will we in Oberlin do if FERC approves the proposed NEXUS route and construction begins, despite our city’s ban? What legal actions will be taken by the city? Are acts of civil disobedience next?
John Elder was pastor of the First Church in Oberlin (UCC) from 1973 to 1991 and has been a Kendal at Oberlin resident since 2007.