The NEXUS pipeline won’t be stopped.
In a July 25 decision, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied a rehearing of the order approving construction of the NEXUS pipeline, which passes through Oberlin.
Seven requests for rehearing were filed, pressuring FERC to assess the full environmental impact of new pipelines and to discern their real economic need. Among the parties were the city of Oberlin and Communities for Safe and Sustainable Energy, a group co-founded by resident John Elder and Peace Community Church pastor Steve Hammond.
The city contended that FERC withheld agreements and diagrams from the public that would have helped further challenge the necessity for a pipeline.
Oberlin tried to acquire the documents without following procedure, the commission said, and did not explain how it was harmed by failing to gain access to the materials.
On rehearing, the city argued that there is a shortage of subscribers for the project; there are alternatives for gas transportation available; the purpose of the pipeline is to displace capacity on other pipelines, not service new demand; there is a weak market for gas in the future; and NEXUS will serve customers that are already being served by other pipelines.
Communities for Safe and Sustainable Energy also described the project as undersubscribed and likely to be rendered obsolete.
The August 2017 order that awarded a license for NEXUS provided sufficient evidence that the project is in the public interest and will not have an adverse impact on other pipelines, FERC said.
The commissioners were “unpersuaded” by studies cited by Oberlin and said demand for natural gas pipelines is growing.
“The project will provide a reliable, flexible, and diverse supply of natural gas that will lead to increased price stability, and the opportunity to expand natural gas service in the future,” according to FERC documents.
“Beyond serving the customers that have already subscribed for service, we find the NEXUS Project will also benefit end users because the project would develop gas infrastructure that will serve to ensure future domestic energy supplies and enhance the pipeline grid,” the papers stated. “Interconnections with other pipelines will enable northern Illinois and other Midwestern markets to access additional supplies of natural gas.”
Oberlin and Communities for Safe and Sustainable energy argue that FERC failed to consider the risk associated with routing a pipeline close to heavily populated areas and violated local zoning laws.
Commissioners cited data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, showing that there have been more than 800 serious incidents in the past 20 years. Approximately 300 resulted in a fatality, with 11 in Ohio.
The majority of fatalities are from local distribution pipelines, which are smaller in diameter or made of plastic, commissioners said. Natural gas transmission pipelines have resulted in a nationwide average of two fatalities per year, with no fatalities occurring in Ohio in the past 20 years, data shows.
Safety and design standards are more stringent for populated areas where a pipeline explosion could harm people and their property, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
NEXUS violates city ordinance when it comes to environmental impact, Oberlin argued. The commission responded by encouraging cooperation between interstate pipelines and local authorities.
“However, this does not mean that state and local agencies, through application of state or local laws, may prohibit or unreasonably delay the construction or operation of facilities approved by this commission,” FERC stated.
Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur believed FERC erred in saying it does not need to consider the harm from the project’s contribution to climate change.
“I do believe that many pipelines are needed and in the public interest, and I have been focusing my efforts on determining if, and how, I can support these projects despite my strong disagreements on the commission’s policy and practice on addressing climate change impacts of pipeline projects,” she wrote.
A dissent by commissioner Richard Glick is based on two concerns: the environmental impact and failure to demonstrate that a pipeline of NEXUS’ size is needed.
The National Environmental Policy Act requires a pipeline’s benefits to outweigh its harms and requires the commission to take a hard look at the environmental impacts of its decisions.
Glick does not agree that FERC can justify a “larger-than-necessary” pipeline solely based on the potential for future growth and investments.
City council president Bryan Burgess said the rehearing denial was expected. Council has 60 days to respond to the decision, according to law director Jon Clark.
City council is recessed until Aug. 20. The next move would be to file for judicial review.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.