City Council Should Focus on Abolishing, Not Rerouting, NEXUS Pipeline

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In a special meeting on Monday, Nov. 30, City Council decided to hire the law offices of D.C.-based Carolyn Elefant to represent the city of Oberlin in a lawsuit aimed at rerouting the NEXUS pipeline. The proposed 250-mile pipeline, to be constructed and operated by Houston-based Spectra Energy, is slated to run from Ontario, Canada to Kensington, Ohio — a town just 76 miles southeast of Oberlin.

Based on the intended route, the pipeline will run as close as 95 feet from residences on Reserve Avenue as well as near the Welcome Nursing Home and the fire station, among other city buildings. The Medina County-based Coalition to Reroute Nexus, along with the city officials of Green, Ohio, devised a rerouting plan that would add 9.9 miles to Spectra’s route and move the three-foot-wide pipeline farther from Oberlin and closer to the village of Wellington, which lies about 9 miles directly south on Main Street. This relocation would avoid the pipeline’s proximity with residences and city buildings, which concerned citizens in case of a spill on their property or the wetlands nearby.

While efforts by CORN and communities from Medina, Fulton, Erie and Summit Counties to reroute the NEXUS project are commendable, protests against Spectra have evolved from committed community discussions about abolishing the pipeline to “not in my backyard” opposition from landowners. Students for Energy Justice, previously Oberlin Anti-Frack, and Communities for Safe and Sustainable Energy — Oberlin’s community environmental group — opposed the reroute plan for precisely this reason.

What is the point of rerouting the pipeline where it would cause the same disturbances in someone else’s backyard? These environmental organizations should take advantage of their large membership bases and community following to back the pipeline’s abolition. Indifference toward the abolition or reroute debate will only allow for a diversion plan that, if implemented, would burden another community with the environmental and public health dangers of the fracking industry — not to mention perpetuate the cycle of environmental injustice.

Oberlin’s Community Bill of Rights, passed in 2013, offers a possible solution to the NEXUS debate. Described as “an emergency measure necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety of the City of Oberlin,” the Bill of Rights banned the construction of new natural gas or oil pipeline infrastructure within city limits.

If enough cities in the counties surrounding Oberlin were to adopt their own Bill of Rights, they could circumvent Spectra’s urgent construction deadlines imposed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The construction of NEXUS would be stalled until Spectra could form its own reroute plan, which would require more time and funding and hopefully create enough opposition that would result in a financial disincentive that the company could no longer ignore.

A Bill of Rights network in northeast Ohio that would obstruct fracking infrastructure construction would be a huge victory for environmental justice and grassroots community groups. For a city like Oberlin — that is supposedly devoted to energy and climate justice — adopting a reroute plan is neither an ethical nor a sustainable choice. There is power in numbers, and Oberlin City Council should practice the values it preaches by throwing its weight behind the pipeline abolishment initiative and community solidarity with other townships.

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