BUCYRUS – The proposed Rover natural gas pipeline would not have a significant environmental impact on northern Richland and Crawford counties during its construction or operation.
That’s the conclusion of a draft study conducted and recently released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The agency recommended in the report that several mitigation measures be taken by Energy Transfer, the company behind the pipeline, none of which should represent significant hurdles for the project, which is facing a tight schedule.
“We determined that construction and operation … would result in limited adverse environmental impacts, with the exception of impacts on forested land,” FERC concluded in its draft environmental impact statement, or EIS.
The release of the EIS is another hurdle leaped for the Rover pipeline, which still awaits a certificate of public convenience and necessity from FERC, the final go-ahead, probably by the third quarter of this year. The $4.2 billion, 711-mile project would transport 3.25 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day from six locations in southeastern Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania to an interconnection hub in Defiance, then up into lower Michigan and ultimately Canada.
Locally, the mainline’s dual, 42-inch pipelines would pass just to the south of the city of Shelby in Richland County, and come close to the Crawford County villages of Tiro, where a large wind turbine project is also slated to be built, New Washington and Chatfield. A compressor station along the line is planned near the tiny village of Lykens in northwestern Crawford County.
Energy Transfer still hopes to have the pipeline online to Defiance by the second quarter of next year, making for an increasingly tight construction window. Locally, the pipeline will cross land devoted almost exclusively to agriculture, which is why the company hopes to avoid construction during the winter months.
“When the ground freezes it becomes very difficult to segregate top and sub-soil with much accuracy. As a result, top and sub-soil mixing occurs, which could result in negative impacts, including reduced crop yields and loss of soil fertility,” Joey Mahmoud, a senior vice president at Energy Transfer, wrote in a letter to FERC.
“Additional impacts likely to occur include increased soil compaction and an inability to properly de-compact the soil due to frozen conditions.”
Work not too disruptive
In its EIS, FERC acknowledged that construction activity along the pipeline route would be disruptive, but didn’t express a great deal of concern.
“Most impacts on soil would be temporary and short-term. … We conclude that impacts on geological and soil resources would be adequately minimized,” it said.
FERC also noted that the pipeline would not cross or come near any designated sole source or state-designated aquifers, although 119 public and private water supply wells would be within 150 feet of the project.
Rover’s impact on forested lands, which are more predominant in eastern Richland County and especially Ashland County, would be significant, FERC said, even though Rover’s route follows already disturbed areas and skirts forested land where possible.
“Construction in forest lands would remove the tree canopy over the width of the construction right of way, which would change the structure and local setting of the forest area,” FERC said.
“A variety of migratory bird species, including birds of conservation concern, are associated with the habitats that would be affected by the pipeline, The clearing of vegetation during the nesting season could have direct impacts on individual migratory birds.”
Properties to be purchased
People, of course, would also be affected by Rover, at least those living close to the route. Energy Transfer said 55 residences sit within 50 feet of the pipeline’s construction work area, while 14 are actually in that area, three a mere 10 feet away. The company plans to purchase most of those properties.
FERC has received more than 2,000 comments from people about the pipeline, many concerned with property values and home insurance policies.
“The actual potential for these impacts is unclear and would likely be highly variable. Based on our experience, we are not aware of instances where an interstate natural gas pipeline has resulted in impacts on property values,” FERC said.
Locally, there has been no organized opposition to the Rover pipeline, as company representatives have spent the past couple of years meeting with affected landowners, or their attorneys. But several advocacy groups are fighting the project, on the grounds that fossil fuels contribute to climate change, that Rover would harm the environment, or that given the recent plunge in energy prices the project is quickly becoming obsolete.
The FreshWater Accountability Project, based in Grand Rapids, Ohio, contends that shale gas extraction in the Marcellus fields of eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania may be past its peak.
“Building this infrastructure just to abandon it in only a few short years is not only bad business, but stands to harm communities who will have to deal with a crumbling, outdated and toxic problem for years. A company and industry in financial crises are in no position to be counted on to complete the work, perform ordinary maintenance, or respond to spills, releases or explosions,” Jensen Silvis, an attorney for the FreshWater group, said.
Emergency plan needed
A spokesperson for the pipeline company said depressed energy prices will not affect demand for the project, which was fully subscribed shortly after it was announced.
In its EIS, FERC noted that Rover will prepare an emergency response plan detailing procedures to be followed by local authorities in the event of an emergency along the pipeline.
“The Rover outreach team has met with local emergency responders along the route about the project and will continue to do so once the pipeline is in operation,” Alexis Daniel, the Rover spokesperson, said. “We train on 811, how to get in touch with the company and who to call in the event of an emergency.”
She added that the pipeline company as well as the EPA on both the state and federal levels will monitor the lines on a regular basis, and that Rover is responsible for any and all remediation should water supplies be affected by a leak.
The draft environmental impact statement can be found on FERC’s website at www.ferc.gov/industries/gas/enviro/eis/2016/02-19-16-eis.asp.
Impacts of the Rover natural gas pipeline:
852 bodies of water and 138 drainage features crossed
180.5 acres of wetlands affected
16 federally listed threatened or endangered species, 56 state listed threatened or endangered species in vicinity
142 historic, above-ground resources in vicinity, including 42 eligible for listing in National Register of Historic Places
259 archaeological sites, including 187 in Ohio, within pipeline corridor
Land use 53.6 percent agriculture; 30.3 percent woodland; 16.1 percent open, industrial/commercial and residential
9,998.3 total acres affected
Source: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission