The proposed NEXUS natural gas pipeline shouldn’t receive a water permit from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, most speakers told agency officials at a hearing Wednesday at Elyria High School.
While the permit is based solely on water quality, speakers also raised concerns about diseases from chemicals used to frack natural gas, pipeline explosions, wetlands and wildlife destruction, and how the pipeline might exacerbate climate change by encouraging fracking.
The 36-inch, underground pipeline would run through Michigan and Ohio.
The 255-mile stretch through Ohio includes Oberlin, passing close to the Lorain County Metro Parks Splash Zone, the Oberlin fire station, the Lorain County JVS, and 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.
Between 2005 and 2014, 14 people were killed and 59 were injured in 34 pipeline explosions, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration, which oversees the nation’s 2.6 million miles of pipelines. They include 71,000 miles in Ohio.
Annual accidents have declined since a 2000 explosion killed 12 campers in Carlsbad, N.M.
Nonetheless, a 2014 report from the Department of Transportation’s inspector general’s office found the administration’s efforts were “riddled with weaknesses” in ensuring inspectors are properly trained and inspections are done promptly. NEXUS critics say the pipeline runs too close to populated areas in Oberlin.
“It is not worth the risk,” said Leesa Husar of Lorain. “I kind of like Oberlin. I’d like it to not get blown up.”
Besides explosions, water contamination was a major concern of speakers. EPA officials said dredging and filling for the project could affect the Upper Ohio, Tuscarawas, Mahoning, Cedar-Portage, Lower Maumee, Ottawa-Stony, Black-Rocky, Huron-Vermilion, and Sandusky watersheds.
Officials said it could negatively affect Ohio’s water quality but cannot violate EPA standards by endangering human health or the environment.
Harry Kallipoltis, an EPA stormwater manager with the division of surface water, said any impact must be temporary. He said the EPA has “checks and balances” to ensure effects are temporary.
“If there is any concern anybody has that that’s not being met, we stand ready to come out and take a look to make sure that it’s meeting the intent of what we consider temporary,” Kallipoltis said.
However, speakers were skeptical about agency oversight. They were displeased when told those who suspect aquifer contamination from the project, or from a leak if the pipeline is built, need to inform their local health departments rather than the EPA.
“That’s way too late,” Oberlin resident Lisa Kavanaugh said. “Whatever is in that water may not be something that can be managed.”
The permit approval basis is narrow. Officials said eminent domain and local zoning disputes, noise, property values, truck traffic from the project, and the project’s popularity cannot be considered.
Bowling Green resident and Green Party U.S. Senate candidate Joe DeMare said the process is overly narrow and climate change should be considered. Methane emissions from fracking increase global warming and in May the federal EPA announced it would regulate methane.
DeMare questioned whether temporary barriers that would be put up around fill removed for the project have been designed to withstand intense rain and flooding predicted to increase due to climate change. And he noted an Ohio EPA news release said the permitting process includes considering “social and environmental aspects” of the project.
“Allowing a project that will physically destroy our society is unacceptable,” DeMare said. “The Ohio EPA is tasked with the job of protecting the people of Ohio and we need protection from this pipeline.”
DeMare was one of about 15 speakers who denounced the pipeline. Two speakers defended it, including Charles Yates Jr., business representative for Pipeliners Union Local 798 of Tulsa, Okla.
Yates said the pipeline will create jobs for his union and stimulate the local economy. NEXUS officials have estimated Lorain County and its communities and school districts would receive about $34.2 million over five years, including the county receiving $6.5 million directly. Critics say the numbers are exaggerated.
Yates, a second-generation pipeliner and welder, said new pipelines are built far safer than the ones his father built. And he said fossil fuels like natural gas are needed.
“We don’t want to turn the lights off, people,” he said. “If it wasn’t for natural gas and oil and petroleum products, we’d be in the Stone Age again. You may laugh (and) I may be exaggerating a bit, but not a lot.”
Also supporting the pipeline is Mike Chadsey, Ohio Oil and Gas Association spokesman. “We trust that you will be able to inspect and regulate and follow up on any issues that may arise regarding this pipeline,” he told EPA officials.
However, other speakers said the Ohio EPA was more industry lapdog than watchdog.
“The EPA is our protector, but I feel like they are between a rock and a hard place,” Kavanaugh said. “They are not allowed to do their job because we know the money is what matters.”
In an email after the meeting, EPA spokesman James Lee said the agency has not rejected any pipeline-related water quality permits, known as 401 permits, over the last several years. Eleven pipeline-related applications, including the NEXUS project, are being evaluated.
Lee said the EPA works with applicants to find solutions to problems that would cause denials. “When we have been unable to resolve these issues, the applicants have withdrawn their application before we can deny it,” Lee said.
While fracking has become far less profitable since OPEC flooded the market with oil in 2014, causing gas prices at the pump to plummet, big money is still at stake in the project. Houston-based Spectra Energy, which is behind the NEXUS project, is a $5.2 billion corporation that says it’s spending $35 billion in expansion projects between 2013 and 2023.
“The NEXUS project continues to advance nicely toward our 2017 in-service date,” Spectra said in its 2015 annual report.
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.