Look for balance in natural gas pipelines


Low prices are continuing to dampen new drilling for oil and natural gas in Ohio’s Utica Shale. In recent days, the state’s No. 1 driller, Chesapeake Energy, announced a halt in new drilling this year in eastern Ohio. Chesapeake is also calling a halt to new wells in Pennsylvania, where it is the top driller, too.

Even so, plans are proceeding for two massive natural gas pipelines that would cross northern Ohio. The Rover Pipeline would traverse southern Stark and Wayne counties, covering rural areas, while the Nexus Pipeline would cut through northern Stark, southern Summit and Medina counties. Both have generated controversy, with the Nexus Pipeline drawing well-organized and vocal opposition from more heavily populated suburban areas.

Indeed, experts looking at the oil and gas industry have identified a lack of pipelines as a factor driving the decrease in drilling. Without the ability to transport products to where they are needed, production naturally stalls. More, Chesapeake and other companies are making temporary decisions based on prices, which are unlikely to stay low forever.

Both the Nexus and Rover pipelines are examples of a trend generated by a drilling boom in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. With huge reserves of oil and natural gas available, pipeline companies are gearing up to build the necessary infrastructure. As they seek approval from federal and state agencies, public hearings provide neighbors with an opportunity to voice concerns.

The latest objections to the Nexus Pipeline flared Feb. 16 at a public hearing held by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, which is recommending approval of air permits for a compressor station in Medina County’s Guilford Township. The state considers the approximately 77 tons of pollutants released each year to be at safe levels, but residents hired their own experts, who see health threats.

Activists also are continuing pressure to reroute the pipeline to the south, into less populated areas, which clashes with company plans to sell natural gas in more densely populated areas of northern Ohio.

Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that controls pipeline routes, has released a draft environmental impact statement for the Rover Pipeline. The report concludes that the pipeline is needed, largely along the route planned. At the same time, it outlines a detailed plan the company must meet to lessen the environmental fallout, covering impacts to soil, water, wildlife and plants.

Ohio must do more to encourage renewable energy sources and energy efficiency, to be sure. Still, the time has not yet come to end all reliance on fossil fuels, especially cleaner burning natural gas. That means regulatory agencies must perform a balancing act, weighing local concerns against the energy needs of the nation.

Local residents should use hearings and comment periods to make their concerns known, and companies have an obligation to listen. If their pipeline projects do not require 100 percent community support, they do well to take seriously what worries residents.