The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission late last week approved construction of the NEXUS Gas Transmission natural gas pipeline, ostensibly ending a long and bitter feud between the company and Ohio landowners whose property the project will affect.
But a Toledo attorney representing the pipeline’s numerous opponents said the fight is by no means over.
On Friday, FERC granted NEXUS the highly-anticipated certificate of public convenience and necessity it sought to proceed with the proposed 255-mile interstate natural gas pipeline. The joint project between Spectra Energy Partners, an Enbridge company, of Houston, Texas, and DTE Energy of Detroit, Mich., will pass through about 208 miles in Ohio, including 18 miles of Fulton County west of County Road 3.
The pipeline will reportedly have the capacity to move about 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas daily to points in Ohio and Michigan, eventually ending at the Dawn Hub in Ontario, Canada, for processing. NEXUS has been anxious to begin construction so that the pipeline is fully operational within 2018.
The company applied with the federal government in November of 2015 for construction following a year of residential property surveys. That spawned a long and contentious David and Goliath face-off between the company and Ohio landowners whose property was in the intended path of the pipeline.
The landowners vehemently argued the project would cause dangerous conditions and environmental disasters along its winding state route, which is scheduled to start in Columbiana County. They also claimed the natural gas, which will originate from the Marcellus and Utica shale regions of Pennsylvania, will be shuttled through communities of northwest Ohio without benefiting them.
The intended route of the mainline 36-inch pipeline across the state was tweaked numerous times by NEXUS to accommodate citizens’ complaints that it intruded on homes and farmland. Locally, the company revamped the route so that it would skirt, rather than enter, Fulton County’s environmentally-sensitive Oak Openings region.
In a prepared statement released last week, NEXUS Gas Transmission President Jim Grech called the pipeline “a critically-needed source of domestic, clean-burning affordable natural gas to Ohio, Michigan and Ontario to meet the growing demand for natural gas-fired generation…Receiving this stamp of approval is a testament to our strong history of consultation and successful project execution.”
NEXUS spokesperson Adam Parker said because the company continues to work with contractors specific start and finish dates have not been determined, although the pipeline is expected to be operational in 2018.
Parker said while the pipeline’s opponents may continue their attempts to stop it, “FERC is the leading permitting agency for interstate natural gas pipeline projects such as NEXUS.” He said the public has had numerous opportunities to attend meetings and contribute comments over the more than three years the project has been reviewed.
“NEXUS will construct the project in accordance with all applicable federal, state, and local permitting requirements, with appropriate oversight by FERC and other agencies,” Parker said.
The pipeline will create thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in income to the regional economy, he said. Total payroll will be approximately $668 million during construction and $3.1 million during operation. Tax revenue associated with the pipeline is estimated at $2.1 billion over the first 60 years of service, with about $1.9 billion distributed in Ohio.
Toledo attorney Terry Lodge, who represents both citizens and organizations opposed to NEXUS, said FERC’s approval was not surprising, “but, of course, disappointing.” He said within two to three weeks he will file a motion with FERC for reconsideration, a mandatory step before opponents can take the issue to court.
Unfortunately, Lodge said, the commission has no deadline in which to respond, meaning it could delay a reply until the pipeline is built and operational.
“It’s an effective way of keeping you from going to court,” he said. “It becomes a delaying opportunity for the commission, to block public participation in these very critical decisions.”
Should FERC’s response come after the pipeline is constructed, chances are slim its operation could be stopped, Lodge said. If FERC’s support of NEXUS stands, he is prepared to take the case to the District of Columbia Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, where he would request pipeline construction be suspended until a decision is rendered.
Lodge cited the project’s seemingly shaky economics – including the fact that the pipeline is only 59 percent subscribed –as well as continued concerns over environmental problems it could cause. “It’s prudent to not be overly-optimistic, but I’m not going to be overly-pessimistic, either,” he said.
He added, “There are several major reasons why this is far from over. This is an ill-considered project, (and) the company is going to be anxious to complete this project on the quick and cheap. I think the economics from this thing is far from complete, and I think the geology of this pipeline is far from worked out.”
Fulton County Commissioner Bill Rufenacht also wasn’t surprised to hear the NEXUS pipeline was approved. “We’ve known from day one that we have no influence whatsoever on FERC,” he said.
Rufenacht said he isn’t familiar enough with the details surrounding the approval to comment further.
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