Students Must Mobilize Against Proposed Pipeline Through Oberlin

CJ Blair, Columnist

Early during Orientation, another student told me that there were plans to build a natural gas pipeline that would go straight through Oberlin. When I heard this, I almost laughed, because I knew it wouldn’t happen. Surely the students of one of the world’s most politically active colleges would do everything in their power to prevent a project like this.

When I joined Oberlin Anti-Frack, however, I realized that this was true only for a small group of students; the campus as a whole was far from being united and ready to mobilize against the pipeline. With several crucial dates in the battle against the Nexus Pipeline just days away, it is without question the most important time to make sure Oberlin students are aware and informed about this situation.

The Nexus Pipeline, owned by the multinational Spectra Energy Corporation, is a proposed 250-mile pipeline that will carry natural gas from northeast Ohio to Canada. It will be nearly four feet in diameter, sending 1.5 billion cubic feet per day of gas to Canada. Its construction alone will require digging up thousands of acres of land along the line’s proposed path. While these facts inspire action among die-hard environmentalists, they are far from sufficient in getting Oberlin College and the city of Oberlin on board to protest the pipeline.

The details that may inspire the community to act are much more grim and consequently far harder to ignore. First, this pipeline will be dug right through the town of Oberlin, certainly within four miles of the College and very likely through the backyards of some Oberlin residents. It will also pass extremely close to the Oberlin Reservoir and the Black River, from which the College gets its water. Though Spectra Energy may have modern technology, this in no way ensures accident prevention. Spectra is notorious for its clean air violations and pipeline leaks, foreshadowing a disturbing picture of the havoc this pipeline could wreak in the community.

Despite the alarming facts of the proposal, opponents of the pipeline face a number of challenges. As of now, Oberlin College is deeply dependent on natural gas, using the fuel as its primary energy source in the central heating plant. Though the College claims it will rely on natural gas only temporarily, as part of its transition from coal to renewable energy, it is nonetheless our current energy source.

Supporters of the proposal, too, may see such a massive project as an opportunity to boost the Oberlin economy by creating a handful of jobs designated for the construction and maintenance of this pipeline. While the city of Oberlin has passed a bill of rights that explicitly forbids hydraulic fracturing and pipeline construction in the town, Spectra has a reputation for proceeding in spite of such restrictions.

While supporters of the project will likely point to our dependence on natural gas as a justification for the pipeline, it’s worth noting that the line would transport a significant portion of that gas abroad.

Gas fracked in Ohio and sent to Canada, one of the pipeline’s destinations, will do little to promote American energy independence. The proposal, furthermore, routes the pipeline directly through lower-income areas of Oberlin, areas where Spectra likely expects less opposition to its actions. If Spectra has any reasons for targeting areas in need of economic revitalization, it’s very unlikely that they include any desire to help these communities.

The urgency of the situation demands immediate action. Thankfully, opportunities for community engagement are fast approaching. On Oct. 10 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. there will be a community potluck and conversation at Peace Community Church at 44 East Lorain Street. The canvassing initiatives that Anti-Frack members will conduct this week will encourage community members to come and hear presentations and speak openly about the Nexus Pipeline. If successful, this event will mark the start of a community-wide conversation about fracking.

For anyone who is truly invested in this cause, I believe that attending these events is the best way to begin. Opinions are important, but unless they’re paired with meaningful action, they hold very little potential to bring about change. When a college such as Oberlin, that is both opinionated and active, is presented with a dilemma like this one, the prospects for effective change are real and exciting. When I heard about the pipeline, I was sure that it wouldn’t happen. I hope that I will remain as confident after the community potluck.