Safety, Environmental Fears Surround Proposed OH Gas Pipelines

Just as in Pennsylvania, landowners and environmentalists in other states are concerned about the environmental impacts of drilling natural gas from shale. And now, the drilling boom could spur new gas pipelines across Ohio. There have been 3 proposals to build new pipelines through the state recently. The Allegheny Front's Julie Grant takes a look at the efforts of one company to build its pipeline.

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Just as in Pennsylvania, landowners and environmentalists in other states are concerned about the environmental impacts of drilling natural gas from shale. And now, the drilling boom could spur new gas pipelines across Ohio. There have been 3 proposals to build new pipelines through the state recently. The Allegheny Front's Julie Grant takes a look at the efforts of one company to build its pipeline.
Grant: The company Kinder-Morgan has applied to the state of Ohio to build a 240-mile pipeline. It would run from West Virginia, under the Ohio River, across Ohio, and connect to an already existing pipeline in the Northwest corner of the state.

Alan Fore: And this whole project is about the Marcellus Shale.

Grant: Alan Fore is spokesman for Kinder-Morgan, a Houston-based energy transport company. He says because there is so much more drilling into the Marcellus Shale bedrock in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, there's a need to process the additional natural gas. That process leaves behind some byproducts:

Fore: Propane, ethane, butane. Those are typically the byproducts of natural gas.

Grant: And that;s the stuff that's going to be headed through this new pipeline, dubbed the Marcellus Shale Lateral. Fore says it's often burned off, and wasted. Instead, Kinder Morgan plans to transport it to refineries that can use it. It will be in liquid form, under high pressure. But Fore says they don't know exactly which fuel will be rushing through the 16-inch pipeline:

Fore: The product in this pipeline is not finally determined. That is part of the arrangement with our shippers. And what exactly they need to ship, and where they need to ship it.

Grant: This has pipeline safety advocates concerned. Carl Weimer is executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust. He says the pipeline being proposed by Kinder-Morgan through Ohio is not a usual pipeline - because it will be transporting liquid propane and ethane- which are heavier gas- liquids...

Weimer: Regular natural gas, if a pipeline breaks, the gas tends to dissipate up into the air. Some of those heavier gas-liquids, can form a cloud that clings to the ground, and almost flows like water along the ground, until they find an ignition source. Some of those things are kind of scary.
Grant: Have we ever heard of a leak of one of these types of pipelines?
Weimer: Yeah, there's been a few different pipeline disasters. There was a big one in Texas, and it was one of those types of gases, where the gas flows along. Two teenagers in a truck tried to drive through the gas cloud and their truck ignited it and killed the two of them.

Grant: Kinder-Morgan says it will use the safest technologies available to prevent pipeline breaks.

But environmentalists say there are other reasons to be concerned. Deborah Goldberg is an attorney specializing in pipeline issues for EarthJustice, a nonprofit law firm. She sees the need for new energy sources, such as natural gas drilling and transport.

Goldberg: My concern about all of these pipeline projects is that they are driven by the industry's interest in profits, and not by the country's needs for energy.

Goldberg says pipelines have big environmental impacts: to the water, the air, and the quality of life in communities...

Goldberg: The pipelines themselves require the clearance of huge amounts of land. You cannot plant trees on top of a pipeline corridor. So if you fragment your forests to build the pipeline, you fragment your forests virtually forever.

Grant: Kinder-Morgan's proposed pipeline through Ohio would cross 334 streams, including 3 state scenic rivers, and go through 11 high quality wetlands. The pipeline would also run near Oak Opening Preserve, a Toledo Metro Park. The park is a release site for the endangered Karner blue butterfly. It is also home to 180 rare species of plants, including dotted horsemint, which is considered endangered in Ohio.

Here's Kinder Morgan's Alan Fore:

Fore: We're certainly sensitive to the Oak Openings area. And our environmental consultant is working on how best to construct and route in that area that will have the least impacts. Or potentially alternatives.

Grant: The Ohio Power Siting Board will decide whether to permit the new pipeline. The Board has asked Kinder-Morgan to propose an alternate route.

Fore says the Marcellus Lateral will benefit the state's economic development. He says the $550 million dollar pipeline will create 2500 construction jobs upfront. Plus, he says there are longer term benefits:

Fore: These pipelines that pass through the state do provide a temporary economic impact through construction jobs and economic activities in these states, but it also provides a new transportation system and product in that state and may in the future be utilized in many ways.

Grant: Fore says some companies in Ohio or Pennsylvania may want to have access to the state's pipelines.

Kinder Morgan recently completed the Rockies Express natural gas pipeline. It runs from Colorado to eastern Ohio. But many people weren't pleased with the development. The company reportedly sued the owners of 77 properties across Ohio to take their land by eminent domain for the project.

Gary Carter has been working with landowners who don't want that to happen with the Marcellus Lateral. Carter successfully fought a pipeline on his own farm once...

Carter: But it took us a lot of court dates and seven years, it takes over your life...

Grant: Now landowners in the path of the proposed new pipeline are starting to organize against both drilling and pipelines. At a meeting about gas drilling, Carter wears a black ball cap with the words Vietnam Vet in yellow. He has advice for the landowners regarding the pipeline, too.

Carter: They said they were going to hire one lawyer, one law firm. I said, "That's a start. But you need six. You need to have a lot of lawsuits, you've got to sue them and keep them court for as long as it takes.

Grant: Environmental groups around the Midwest say pipelines are an important issue. But they're largely focused on educating landowners - in hopes of stopping them from signing drilling leases. If companies can't drill for natural gas, they say, there might not be a need for the pipelines. For The Allegheny Front, I'm Julie Grant.