By Jamison Cocklin
A proposed 250-mile natural- gas transmission pipeline expected to originate in Northeast Ohio has met with skepticism and opposition from a handful of environmental and anti-fracking groups.
Known as the NEXUS Gas Transmission System, the project, which will wend its way through Michigan into Ontario, Canada, was announced earlier this month by three leading energy companies looking to capitalize on the growing demand for moving Utica Shale natural gas to markets and consumers in Canada, Michigan and Ohio.
Detroit-based DTE Energy, a utility and diversified energy company, and two major pipeline corporations — Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge Inc. and Houston-based Spectra Energy — each will have a 33-percent controlling stake in the line.
The system will be between 30 inches and 36 inches in diameter and be capable of transporting 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.
But opposition groups fear the transmission system will pose problems for property owners and the environment and provide a segue for rapid infrastructure development in the future.
“These pipelines use up a huge amount of land, and this is when the rights of property owners are put below the rights of corporations,” said Alison Auciello, a Cincinnati-based organizer for the national environmental group Food and Water Watch. “Not only that, but it will lock Ohio into a pattern of building this type of infrastructure and conducting more fracking options.”
Fracking is the process in which water, chemicals and sand are blasted into rocks thousands of feet below the ground to unlock natural gas and oil. It has come under fire because of its potential environmental concerns.
Joined by other statewide groups such as the Network for Oil and Gas Accountability and Protection and EcoWatch, opponents are singling out Enbridge Inc. and say that Ohio will fall prey to the company’s “egregious track record.”
In a July report released by the National Transportation Safety Board, Enbridge was cited for “pervasive organizational failures,” that led to a 2010 pipeline rupture and subsequent oil spill on a system it operated near the Kalamazoo River in Marshall, Mich.
The NTSB found Enbridge failed to assess accurately the structural integrity of the pipeline. The cracks that ultimately ruptured were detected by Enbridge in 2005 but were not repaired, leading to more than 840,000 gallons of oil — enough to fill 120 tanker trucks — spilling into Michigan wetlands.
In June, Enbridge also confirmed a 60-gallon spill at its pumping station on the Athabasca pipeline in Canada.
Repeated emails and calls to the company seeking comment were not returned late last week.
Wendy Olson, a spokeswoman for Spectra Energy, said in an email, however, that all the partner companies for NEXUS are “firmly committed to the safe construction and operation” of their pipelines.
She added the pipeline will be constructed using the strongest modern steel and buried between 3 and 6 feet below ground.
According to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, which regulates the safety of most gas pipelines in the state, there are 56,824 miles of natural-gas distribution lines and 10,000 miles of oil and gas transmission lines across the state.
“If you look at the thousands of miles of lines across the state, even from the emergency response side, incidents are very rare,” said Rhonda Reda, executive director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program. “Do they occur? Absolutely. But here’s where it goes back to technology. There are things going through those lines all the time to ensure there is no leak, and if they locate a leak, it’s fixed before there’s a problem.”
Across Ohio, only five incidents, defined by the PUCO as death, property loss or significant injury caused by the release of gas or oil, have occurred this year. In 2011, a total of 12 incidents occurred, and seven occurred in 2010.
Plans for the NEXUS system have not been finalized, but the companies plan on routing the system through utility corridors already in use. It also remains unclear where in Northeast Ohio the line will originate.
“Whenever we have an opportunity to educate people, no matter how minimal the risk is, we’re making headway,” said Vanessa Pesec, president of NEOGAP. “We really haven’t raised the red flag on this yet, but when these plans are finalized it will be up to each individual community to voice concerns in their own way and we support those concerns.”