Pipeline protests grind on as NEXUS decision nears

By Jason Hawk - jhawk@civitasmedia.com

The battle over the proposed NEXUS pipeline is coming to a head with federal approval looming early this year.

Heading the fight in Oberlin is John Elder, spokesman for Communities for Safe and Sustainable Energy, who penned a Jan. 12 letter of protest to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C.

It opposes the NEXUS route through Oberlin, stretching 255 miles from Kensington Processing Plant in Columbiana County to Ypsilanti Township in Michigan.

Elder cites the overwhelming passage of the city’s Community Bill of Rights in 2013. The document banned fracking activities in Oberlin, including transmission of fracked gas and construction of new pipelines.

“The citizens of Oberlin acted proactively, in advance of any knowledge of NEXUS, but with awareness of the negative impact of the ‘fracking’ process, including pipelines that carry fracked gas,” Elder’s letter said.

His main point of contention was the potential danger posed to residents on Reserve Avenue, who face the prospect of having a 36-inch gas pipeline just a few feet north of their backyards.

“Safety is a real issue. NEXUS began as a joint venture of Spectra Energy and DTE (Energy). The Spectra 36-inch pipeline blast near Pittsburgh on April 29, 2016, signaled that the city of Oberlin’s concern about pipelines ‘endangering health, safety, and welfare’ is well-based.”

The blast sent a massive fireball into the sky, hospitalized one man, caused the evacuation of a quarter-mile zone, and destroyed several homes.

Now the Canadian company Enbridge is buying Spectra “and we are all well aware of the catastrophic oil spill in July 2010 from an Enbridge pipeline” that contaminated Michigan’s Kalamazoo River and led to a $75 million fine, Elder wrote.

The spill leaked 1.1 million gallons of crude oil and closed 35 miles of the river for nearly a year. Clean-up costs totaled $765 million.

With Enbridge involved, there is more reason for Oberlin to insist that federal regulators move the NEXUS route out of the city limits, Elder said.

Oberlin is far from alone in its opposition to the pipeline. Cities along the route have fielded many worries from residents.

Earlier this month, protesters packed a Bowling Green city council meeting, opposing an easement for NEXUS to pass through. Bowling Green has a fracking ban in effect that makes drilling a misdemeanor offense, but does not ban transmission of fracked gas like Oberlin does.

“I am really concerned about this,” resident Laura Sanchez told the Bowling Green council. “I think this is a moment in our history where we have a chance to be part of moving toward the public good rather than serving private interests. And certainly since it’s our public land.”

Others there said the pipeline would cross a fault line and pass close to the city’s reservoir.

Mauricio Jimenez of Grand Rapids, Mich., also wrote a Jan. 3 letter to FERC to protest the company’s involvement in NEXUS.

“Enbridge was responsible for one of the worst environmental disasters in American history,” he wrote. “Over one million gallons of Canadian tar sand crude oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River, damaging 35 miles of the river. It was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history and one of the most expensive in U.S. history.”

Jimenez also voiced safety concerns for schools and small towns along the NEXUS route and for the forests, wetlands, and rivers it will cross.

A FERC study released Nov. 30 said the project is safe and environmentally sound.

It said there was no need for an alternative route that would take the pipeline farther from Reserve Avenue, which would conflict with existing pipelines requiring multiple crossovers.

“We do not find the Reserve Avenue Route Variation provides a significant environmental advantage,” the study said.

It also rebutted concerns about potential explosions. The study said serious pipeline incidents are down 37 percent since 2009, citing numbers from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Paul Darby, an artist from the city of Green, Ohio, wrote another formal complaint Jan. 6 to FERC — it mainly focuses on the pipeline’s economic impact.

He said Green “would experience the loss of future residential, commercial, and industrial growth and stands to lose $52 million over a 50-year time period” due to NEXUS, and that the Green school system would lose $61 million.

Summit County, Portage Lakes JVS, the Akron-Summit County Public Library, and Summit County Metro Parks would all experience revenue losses, he claimed, predicting total losses of $122 million.

The company behind NEXUS argues that additional pipelines are needed in Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario “to support the growing demand for clean-burning natural gas and to offset the decline in traditional western Canadian supplies.”

NEXUS would deliver about 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day to its markets.

More than 350 route variations have been evaluated and the company has made more than 230 changes, it said. For example, it worked with the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office to make sure it was not impinging on archaeological dig sites or protected buildings.

Terry Lodge, a Toledo attorney, told fellow Civitas Media newspaper the Swanton Enterprise that he sees possible ways to halt the pipeline.

He said the Sierra Club is alleging DTE Energy has violated anti-trust laws by trying to shift its $1 million share of the NEXUS project to ratepayers. Lodge also cited legal challenges by grassroots groups in Waterville, Ohio, to air quality permits issued by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for a local pipeline compressor station.

“It’s not a success until it’s built, and we’re doing what we can to present this as a much more complicated business proposition than NEXUS prefers to treat it,” Lodge said. “The emphasis is business-priority driven, and at the same time they’re asking people to adjust their lives to a 36-inch pipeline.

“We feel (the pipeline is) a terrible business plan. We want to kill their project. For an export scheme that is only for making money it doesn’t benefit Ohio.”

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk