The Oberlin Review

NEXUS Pipeline May Violate Town Bill of Rights

Jake Berstein

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As the date of construction looms closer, Oberlin citizens continue to push back against what they believe is Spectra’s Energy disregard of the Oberlin Community Bill of Rights. Spectra Energy has been working to break ground on a natural gas pipeline, but Oberlin residents — and residents throughout Ohio — do not want the pipeline to exist as planned.

Local landowners who would be affected by the pipeline have been working with the College’s Students for Energy Justice to create community charters, like the Oberlin Bill of Rights, that would outlaw the transportation of natural gas through their cities. Though plans for the pipeline are constantly in flux, residents are becoming more disheartened as the pipeline gets closer to construction. Still, communities around Ohio are taking measures to prevent the pipeline from becoming a reality.

Spectra currently plans for the 255-mile-long interstate pipeline to pass through Oberlin, even though the terms of the pipeline are in direct conflict with the town’s Bill of Rights. Community members and College students have protested the pipeline and fought its construction since it was first proposed in late 2014, but their attempts may prove to be in vain.

Citizens of Broadview Heights, a Cleveland suburb similarly affected by the pipeline, have also been pushing against its construction. In the past several months, citizens of Broadview Heights took their fight to the government. Citizens are currently seeking an appeal to the rejection of the class action lawsuit that was filed against the state in December 2014.

“Nowhere in Ohio has anyone been able to actually get into a courtroom to make an argument to the judge,” said Tish O’Dell, Ohio Community Organizer of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.

The results of the class action suit have yet to be released, but if the court rules against the people, the only option left would be to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, O’Dell said in a statement to the Review.

The construction of the pipeline, which would pass through Reserve Avenue in the south of Oberlin, conflicts with the peoples’ rights enumerated in the town’s Bill of Rights, a document drafted by 16 Oberlin residents and proposed on July 11, 2013.

“It shall be unlawful for any corporation, or any director, officer, owner or manager of a corporation to use a corporation to deposit, store, or transport waste water, produced water, frack water, brine or other materials, chemicals or by-products used in the exploration for, or extraction of, gas or oil, within, upon or through the land, air or waters of the city of Oberlin,” section 2, part (b), states.

According to the Bill, any person or corporation that violates the ordinance can be considered guilty of a criminal offense.

“The Oberlin Bill of Rights is not something that the police department enforces as a criminal matter. I can’t even tell you what the remedies would be for someone violating the Bill of Rights, if there are any,” said Lieutenant Michael McCloskey.

In her statement, O’Dell said that “[the pipeline issue] has been going on all over the state.” It follows a pattern of the government’s refusal to protect the rights of its citizens. “The city is refusing to use their own law that the people passed to try and stop the pipeline.”

For NEXUS to progress into the construction phase, its application has to be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. However, instead of directing FERC to the Oberlin Bill of Rights, the city has hired what O’Dell calls “a bigwig Washington, D.C., lawyer” that will come and make a statement to FERC.

When asked if NEXUS was going to take the Oberlin Community Bill of Rights into consideration when starting construction of the pipeline, a representative of NEXUS said that it would be an issue for FERC to deal with, since NEXUS needs a “certificate of necessity” to continue with the pipeline. The definite answer of whether the Bill of Rights will have an effect will be decided in November.

Although the comment period for FERC is officially closed, it is still possible to intervene,” said Jon Elder, a member of Communities for Safe and Sustainable Energy. There have been responses to these intervention letters by NEXUS, but they have been brief. Elder, who helped write the Oberlin Community Bill of Rights, said that the responses made reference to zoning regulations, but did not name the Oberlin ordinance at all.

Elder explained that the issue is not about zoning regulations, but about violating a city ordinance. He is not confident that FERC will help the cause, seeing that it hasn’t denied any pipeline application to date.

Spectra Energy, a Fortune 500 natural gas corporation based in Houston, Texas, has been named on Ethisphere Institute’s “World’s Most Ethical Companies” list and is a part of the FTSE4Good Global Index Series. Companies on these lists have to meet very strict standards in relation to environmental, social and governance principles.

According to Elder, Spectra Energy CEO Gregory L. Ebel said in a conference call to shareholders on Monday that NEXUS is still planning to send gas through the pipeline in the last quarter of 2017. Although FERC has yet to approve the NEXUS pipeline with the changes to the proposed route, NEXUS is confident that the pipeline will continue along its current path.

Getting approval is a yearlong process, said a representative of NEXUS. They filed the updated plan in November 2015 and will hear back by November 2016.

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