The Oberlin Review

Regulators Move Forward with NEXUS Pipeline

Oliver Bok, News Editor

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A new pipeline that would carry natural gas directly through Oberlin has received a stamp of approval from regulators in spite of local opposition.

Staffers at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recommended regulatory approval for the NEXUS pipeline, a controversial proposed natural gas conduit spanning Ohio and Michigan to Canada.

The recommendation points to a potential legal battle on the horizon, since building the pipeline within city limits would violate the Oberlin Community Bill of Rights, an ordinance that prohibits fracking or infrastructure related to fracking. Over 70 percent of Oberlin residents voted for the Community Bill of Rights in 2013.

The recommendation also rejected a proposed reroute of the Oberlin section of the pipeline that would have avoided the fire station and densely populated parts of the city.

While the recommendation is not final — the Commissioners appointed by the president make the final decision, not the FERC staff who wrote the report — the report represents a major step in getting approval for the pipeline, which is scheduled to begin construction in the first half of 2017.

“We determined that construction and operation of the projects would result in some adverse environmental impacts, but impacts would be reduced to less-than-significant levels with the implementation of the applicants’ proposed and our recommended mitigation measures,” the recommendation reads.

Ohio community organizer for Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund Tish O’Dell questioned FERC’s definition of “significant” and pointed to recent natural gas explosions in Kansas City and around the country as evidence of the gravity of the risks involved.

“What’s acceptable to them and what’s acceptable to you in Oberlin — having to breathe the air from it if there’s an explosion there — it’s probably a little different, what’s acceptable to you and what’s acceptable to NEXUS,” O’Dell said.

O’Dell also criticized how the recommendation promotes expansion of carbon-based energy infrastructure despite the rapid warming of the climate. “Researchers are shocked that in the arctic temperatures are 36 degrees Fahrenheit above what they’ve ever been,” O’Dell said. “But let’s keep burning fossil fuels! We’re talking about the extinction of humans and the end of life on this planet as we know it.”

According to O’Dell, the recommendation came as no surprise due to FERC’s track record and pervasive corporate influence in the political system.

“FERC’s only denied a permit once or twice; they approve 99 percent of them, so it’s not really that shocking,” O’Dell said. “That’s what they’re set up to do.”

O’Dell advocated for people in every community to oppose the pipeline without reservations or focusing on reroutes, and called on the Oberlin City Council to uphold the Community Bill of Rights.

“We need to work together to stop it altogether,” O’Dell said. “If it’s harmful in Oberlin, it’s harmful in the next community you’re going to put it in.”

According to City Councilmember Sharon Pearson, since the news broke Wednesday council has not had a chance to meet with the law director and form a legal strategy.

“We’ve been trying to do everything within our power under the law to figure out what we can do to keep our residents safe,” Pearson said.

To Pearson, the main problem with the route is its proximity to the fire station.

“I think it’s all of our concern that if something does happen with that pipeline, it is very, very close to our fire station, and they would be one of the first responders — we would hope — to be able to help people, rescue people,” Pearson said.
The FERC report rejected the proposed reroute that would have avoided the fire station because of previous pipelines already in the ground and planned development.

Spectra Energy released a statement arguing that the pipeline will create jobs, provide money for school districts and assist the transition away from coal-burning power plants. Spectra also emphasized the amount of effort that had gone into planning the route.

“In total, NEXUS adopted a total of 239 route changes totaling about 231 miles (91 percent of the pipeline route) for various reasons, including landowner requests, avoidance of sensitive resources, or engineering considerations,” the statement reads.

However, to John Elder, a member of the Committee for Safe and Sustainable Energy and a longtime opponent of the NEXUS pipeline, the pipeline is the “wrong infrastructure in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

In addition to environmental and safety concerns, the pipeline is not economically viable, Elder said.

“The domestic price of natural gas is so low that for many producers, they’re actually losing money on it,” Elder said. “They all say, ‘Well, if we could ship it to countries overseas that don’t have natural gas, they’ll pay us more for it and that will make it economically viable.’ The problem with that is there’s a global glut just as there’s a domestic glut in natural gas.”

Additionly, Spectra Energy only has contracts to transport 58 percent of the pipeline’s capacity for natural gas, according to Elder.

Elder said that while he supports City Council enforcing the Community Bill of Rights, the ramifications of a legal challenge to the pipeline could be serious.

“If the city takes NEXUS to court and says we have an ordinance on the books, NEXUS will respond, ‘You may have an ordinance on your books, but it’s overruled by federal law and we don’t have to pay any attention to it,’” Elder said. “If the city appeals that, then NEXUS would say, ‘If we had to change our route, now you’d be liable for the cost of that, and if your ban resulted in our not being able to build the pipeline at all, then you’d be liable for our lost income,’ which would bankrupt the city.”

Tamara Young-Allen, a spokesperson for FERC, asserted that Oberlin’s ordinance cannot overrule FERC’s federal authority.

“Federal courts have affirmed that federal actions preempt state and local ordinance and laws,” Young-Allen wrote in an email to the Review.

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2 Responses to “Regulators Move Forward with NEXUS Pipeline”

  1. Paul L Gierosky on December 5th, 2016 2:26 PM

    The only route for the NEXUS pipeline through many northern Ohio counties will come at the expense of property owners who will be forced to give up their land through eminent domain. In Medina County 71% of property owners oppose the route; in Lorain County it is 60%; in Summit County 85%.

    The issues raised with the current process for routing these projects are numerous, including lack of a national energy policy (each company gets to choose the project and its goal) , the company picks the route (always the shortest), safety of the public is at risk (due to inadequate safety setback standards maintained by USDOT); the pipeline itself is at risk (due to third party incursions, bad actors and inadequate safety inspections during construction); property devaluation in residential and commercial areas is assured (as certified by the Medina County Auditor), environmental pollution (caused by construction of the pipeline and operation of its compressor stations); ecological degradation (due to a failed process that allows the company to choose the route and the lack of any coordinated effort between competing companies, the Commission and State government that results in the approval of multiple projects that crisscross this and many other counties in our State); FERC’s mission (which is to process energy project Applications, not question their Purpose or Need); FERC’s 100% approval record (every Application it has ever received has been approved) and along with the approval the 1938 Natural Gas Act confers on a private company the power to use eminent domain.

    The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission process of siting and implementing a pipeline project allows a for profit company to choose a route best suited for its profit motive. The route of interstate pipelines, such as Nexus, is chosen by one individual with very little government oversight. After the route is chosen, the burden of finding better routes is placed on property owners, at their expense. Because FERC wields the power of eminent domain the pipeline company has an unfair advantage over property owners. Under the National Gas Act, the pipeline company is not required to demonstrate a public purpose, it is presumed.

    NEXUS has no customers in Ohio. It is an export pipeline designed to transport gas to Michigan and Canada.

    The NEXUS Project presents several unique legal issues 1) does the Fifth Amendment protect profit private agency takings designed to benefit foreign companies (Enbridge Energy of Calgary, Alberta CANADA will shortly own Spectra Energy the lead developer of NEXUS); 2) does the failure to provide for sufficient safety setbacks (due to recent safety setback industry research) in residential areas during the siting phase violate the Fourteenth Amendment due process rights of property owners who are unnecessarily placed at risk; 3) does the Natural Gas Act violate the Tenth Amendment by denying the right to a jury trial in eminent domain cases in Ohio and other provisions?

    This pipeline doesn’t benefit anyone in northern Ohio. Ohio is already well-served by natural gas supplies and infrastructure.

    From a free market point-of-view, there is nothing wrong with transporting material through a pipeline on its way to the Spectra Energy owned Dawn Hub underground storage facility in Sarnia, Ontario, to Union Gas a Spectra Energy subsidiary in Canada, and Enbridge Energy of Calgary Alberta their parent. This is a perfectly fine private purpose. But it is a private purpose, pursued by a private company. And eminent domain, the power to take land against the owner’s will, should be reserved for public agencies pursuing public purposes

  2. Ellen Mavrich on December 12th, 2016 12:15 PM

    The arctic ice is melting. The beginning of a great extinction is upon us. The Nexus pipeline is a fossil fuel infrastructure project which will accelerate hydrofracking throughout the Marcellus and Utica shales. Deep shale gas extraction releases methane into our atmosphere and is more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat trapping gas. The use of fossil fuels as an energy source must stop now. The monies being invested into fossil fuel infrastructure must be redirected into renewable energy now if we are to truly address the challenges of climate change. In Oberlin we mostly know this.

    But having knowledge does not translate into strong leadership. Oberlin City Council, our community, and Communities for Safe and Sustainable Energy cannot support actions to combat climate change, and promote sustainability, only when convenient, or only when there is no risk involved. Councilwomen Pearson is correct. The current law does not allow council to “keep our residents safe”. When the law says a community must accept a corporate project which pollutes their community, opposes their moral direction and interferes with their plans for sustainable living, it is an unjust law. Unjust laws must be challenged and changed. History will tell you the only way this can be accomplished is through grassroots action by the people. Coloring inside the provided lines, has and will not accomplish anything. We must face the bully head on and face them in court using community rights as the basis of our legal argument.

    People and movements before us have successfully challenged unjust laws. The abolitionists, the suffragists, the civil rights movement to name a few. Oberlin loves to align itself with those who came before us who challenged unjust laws. Oberlinians recognized the rights of African Americans when it was illegal to do so and defied unjust laws such as the Fugitive Slave Laws. Oberlinians educated African Americans and women when others said they didn’t have the right to education.

    We are currently being told it is illegal for communities to live the sustainable life they envision. So what are we going to do about it? What’s it going to be Oberlin? Will we continue to follow the path forged by the brave Oberlinians before us by standing for what’s right and just and forging change so others will find strength and courage to follow our lead? Or will we be content “pretending” to be a community leading the future while we actually just shirk around the sidelines hiding from the bully? If it’s the latter, then we need to stop aligning ourselves with the truly brave people who came before. That is also an injustice.

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