The NEXUS natural gas pipeline and an accompanying pipeline project by Texas Eastern Transmission have received preliminary approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
A July 8 analysis known as a draft environmental impact statement said the projects wouldn’t have major adverse environmental effects and are safe.
Tamara Young-Allen, a commission spokeswoman, said a final impact statement is due Nov. 30. The five-person commission is expected to decide on the project next year, but Young-Allen wouldn’t estimate when.
The proposed 36-inch NEXUS pipeline would run through Michigan and Ohio. The 255-mile stretch through Ohio includes Oberlin, passing within 95 feet of Reserve Avenue homes, roughly 1,100 feet from the Lorain County Metro Parks Splash Zone, nearly 1,800 feet from the Oberlin fire station, 4,200 feet from the Lorain County JVS, and 2,000 feet from Welcome Nursing Home.
It would also pass through the Firelands, Oberlin, and Lorain County JVS school districts, as well as New Russia and Pittsfield townships.
Spectra Energy, the company behind the pipeline plans, says all those political entities would benefit in the form of property tax dollars.
Oberlin officials have asked the commission to make Houston-based Spectra reroute the pipeline outside Oberlin due to safety concerns.
Additional concerns have been raised about the possibility of an explosion like the April 29 blast at a Spectra Energy pipeline that seriously injured a man in Salem Township, Pa., a community about 90 miles east of Youngstown.
The explosion opened a 12-foot deep, 1,500-square-foot hole and scorched 40 acres, according to State Impact Pennsylvania, a National Public Radio affiliate. A 24-foot section of the pipeline landed 100 feet away from the blast.
A preliminary investigation by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration found pipe corrosion caused the explosion, according to a July 20 Spectra statement.
“The pipeline’s location near a relatively populated area must be re-evaluated in light of a recent pipeline explosion in Pennsylvania,” attorney Carolyn Elefant, who represents Oberlin, wrote in a May 20 letter to the commission.
Serious pipeline incidents — including the 2012 spill of some 117,000 gallons of gasoline from a Sunoco Logistics pipeline in Wellington — have decreased 37 percent since 2009, according to the administration’s website.
However Elefant questioned whether the administration is proactive enough in preventing explosions in the nation’s 2.6 million miles of pipelines, which includes about 71,000 in Ohio.
The administration has 139 inspectors along with 300 state inspectors overseeing 3,000 companies. Besides pipelines, it oversees 118 liquefied natural gas plants and 6,970 hazardous liquid breakout tanks.
Elefant cited a 2014 report from the Department of Transportation’s inspector general’s office, which found the administration’s efforts were “riddled with weaknesses” in ensuring inspectors are properly trained and inspections are done promptly.
Elefant noted the administration admitted in 2013 that maximum civil penalties of $50,000 against international corporations are insufficient.
Nonetheless, the analysis of the proposed projects said NEXUS and Texas Eastern would implement safety measures. They include ventilating compressor buildings to prevent the accumulation of gas, equipping the stations with automatic shutdown systems when unsafe conditions are detected, and installing relief valves to prevent pipeline over-pressurization.
“Based on NEXUS and Texas Eastern’s compliance with federal design and safety standards, as well as their implementation of safety measures, we conclude that constructing and operating the pipeline facilities would not significantly impact public safety,” the study said.
The analysis also said groundwater would not be significantly affected because excavation would be shallow and temporary. Impact on wetlands would be “minimized or mitigated” and projects wouldn’t have a “significant adverse effect” on wildlife.
“We determined that construction and operation of the projects would result in some adverse environmental impacts, but the impacts would be reduced to less than significant levels with the implementation of the applicants proposed and our recommended mitigation measures,” the analysis said.
Some residents in Medina County have complained bitterly about NEXUS employees surveying on their properties and, like Oberlin officials, want the pipeline rerouted.
The study said 12 major route alternatives were evaluated, but none would offer a “major environmental advantage” over the proposed route.
NEXUS in a July 26 response to the commission asked it to reconsider a recommended Reserve Avenue route variation saying existing pipelines and a proposed subdivision would make it unfeasible.
NEXUS is promoting the project’s financial benefits to Oberlin, Oberlin Schools, and the rest of Lorain County.
The city would receive $120,232 over five years and Oberlin Schools would receive $6.4 million in property taxes over five years. However, Ken Stanley, board of education president, said the increase would be minimal because the Ohio Department of Education would subtract most of the money from Oberlin’s state taxpayer funding.
The Firelands Schools to the north would receive about $5.9 million over five years. Firelands board of education president Ben Gibson said revenue projections sent by NEXUS to school district households were used by opponents of a levy for new school to defeat it in an Aug. 2 special election.
However, Gibson noted the proposed money could only be used for daily operations, not a building project and could be subtracted from the state money Firelands receives for daily operations.
Gibson said he supports the pipeline if it can be constructed safely, but is unsure whether it will be built.
“It’s kind of deceiving, the information that was put out there,” he said. “We certainly aren’t working it into our budgets because it’s just unknown what’s truly going to happen with the project.”
Lorain County would receive about $6.5 million over five years, according to Spectra, but county commissioner Ted Kalo said he’s “extremely skeptical” about the estimates, which he believes are inflated.
He said the southern area of the county where construction would occur is unincorporated so income tax collections would be minimal. He said workers constructing the pipeline would probably stay in Strongsville in Cuyahoga County during construction, which NEXUS hopes to complete by November 2017 if it receives approval.
Kalo said he asked last year at a public meeting for NEXUS to have an economist follow up with specifics for him, but they never did.
Commissioners have no jurisdiction over the project and haven’t taken a position on it.
Adam Parker, a Spectra spokesman, didn’t return calls, saying he would only respond to emailed questions. “These numbers are preliminary estimates based on the scope of the project at the time the study was conducted in June of 2016 and are subject to change,” Parker wrote in an email.
Like Kalo, John Elder, a spokesman for Communities for Safe and Sustainable Energy, is also skeptical about the financial benefits. “There’s no guarantee,” he said, adding that companies often seek tax breaks to offset costs.
Spectra earned about $5.2 billion in revenue last year, according to its annual report. The report said the company planned $35 billion in projects between 2013 and 2020.
Despite the preliminary approval, Elder said the projects aren’t done deals. He said the commission’s recent approval of the Rover pipeline — which would run through Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia — might make the NEXUS pipeline unprofitable.
Elder also questioned whether there are enough Ohio customers to justify the projects. He said Spectra initially said the pipeline would primarily serve customers in Michigan and Canada.
“They haven’t been able to demonstrate that those necessary customers in Ohio actually exist,” Elder said.
Elefant noted that in addition to the Rover pipeline, pipelines in Ohio have been approved in 2014 and in February.
“Given all of this development, it is difficult to fathom that another pipeline is necessary,” she wrote.
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.