A proposed natural gas pipeline’s impact on farming in Lenawee and Washtenaw counties was the main topic of discussion at a meeting with federal regulators earlier this week in Tecumseh.
The proposed Nexus Pipeline would connect a Texas Eastern transmission line in Ohio to existing transmission lines in Michigan, transporting natural gas to Ohio, Michigan, Chicago and Ontario consumers. It would be about 250 miles long and is proposed to be completed toward the end of 2017.
The pipeline would cut across the eastern part of Lenawee County.
Joanne Wachholder, a project manager for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which hosted the meeting Tuesday night at the Tecumseh Center for the Arts, said the gathering’s purpose was to gather public input for the commission’s environmental impact study. She asked that speakers focus on environmental questions.
“The commission wants to hear your concerns on the non-environmental issues,” she said. “However, those issues will be addressed in different ways.”
A number of farm operators along the pipeline’s proposed path said it would hurt crop yields.
Samuel J. Woods, a retired agronomy professor from Ohio State University who farms near Deerfield in Lenawee County, said there are two pipelines running through his property that were installed around the 1950s, and that it’s still possible to see where they go because of their effect on crops.
“We are still seeing and feeling the effects of those lines today in the form of reduced crop yields,” he said. “Another pipeline would just expand that poor-yield area.”
Paul Wielfaert of Ridgeway Township, whose family has been farming in Lenawee County for over 110 years, said this area has “some of the most productive farmland in the state.”
“One of the primary reasons this is possible is due to our tile drainage systems,” he said. “The proposed pipeline would chop those systems to pieces. The rerouting and repair of tile lines will be expensive, extremely expensive, and in some cases impractical or even impossible. How can you bury a three- to four-foot pipe and leave the land the way you found it?”
Laurie Isley of Palmyra said damage to tiling systems can be hard to detect at first. Landowners need to be fairly compensated, she said, but that’s hard when they may not even know the extent of any damage.
“We recognize the need to transport energy from its source to its point of consumption,” she said. “However, the negative impact and associated losses should not be borne entirely by the landowners along this pipeline.”
Robert Knoblauch, a Lenawee County commissioner who represents one of the areas the pipeline would cross, said it will need to traverse 34 different drains maintained by the Lenawee County Drain Commission.
Arthur Diestel, manager of stakeholder outreach for the Nexus project, said in response to an email from Adrian Today that Nexus “recognizes the value of agricultural areas, and we will work diligently with each landowner/tenant farmer to determine any construction requirements specific to each tract of land.”
Diestel said Nexus will work with landowners to identify tile systems and understand each property’s drainage needs. He said Nexus’ typical practices include: working closely with farmers, Natural Resources Conservation Service and local agricultural extension organizations; performing top soil segregration during construction, including restoration and decompaction in order to return the area to pre-construction conditions; and locating and avoiding irrigation pipes, water, drain tiles and electrical lines.
Representatives of area economic development agencies spoke in favor of the pipeline, as did a representative of an Oklahoma-based union of pipeline workers. Nexus has promised that at least half of the construction will use union labor.
Terry Langley of Pipeliners Local 798 said the construction of Nexus will employ people and be good for Michigan.
“Pipelines have long proven to be the safest and most reliable way to transport natural gas,” he said. “Pipelines are also more environmentally friendly than transporting by truck or rail, which have much higher carbon emissions.”
Some speakers countered by saying that while natural gas may be cleaner than coal and pipelines may be safer than trucks or trains, that benefit is canceled out by the fact that the pipeline would carry gas from the Utica and Marcellus shale regions, where natural gas is extracted by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
A few people also mentioned the rupture in a natural gas transmission line in Washtenaw County that happened the night before Tuesday’s meeting.
“Had this pipeline been ignited, you would have had a fireball that would have destroyed things half a mile away,” said John Ford of Manchester Township.
Tracy Oberleiter of Monroe spoke on behalf of both the Monroe County Chamber of Commerce and the Monroe chapter of Ducks Unlimited, a conservation group. He said DTE Energy, one of the partners in the Nexus pipeline, has been a longtime donor to Ducks Unlimited and has always operated in an environmentally friendly way.
“We appreciate that the Nexus team contacted us early to inform us of the project, its route, the development approach, and how it would impact the environment,” he said.
Although the meeting was mainly focused on environmental issues, some speakers addressed economic issues as well, with supporters saying it would create jobs and investment, while opponents called it an unnecessary example of corporate greed.
Tim Lake, president and CEO of the Monroe County Business Development Corp., said that “this infrastructure that we’re talking about here tonight bodes well for continued private investment throughout southeast Michigan for many years to come.”
Tim Robinson, chief operating officer of Lenawee Now, said the pipeline will create 686 jobs in Lenawee County over the course of the project and be responsible for $33 million in labor income. He also said the developers should be commended for trying to run Nexus along existing pipeline corridors.
Opponents of the pipeline said it would mainly create temporary jobs, but that it could have a much longer-lasting impact on property values and on any future development along its path.
Katie Kazakos of Augusta Township said the pipeline is more about profit that American energy needs. She cited a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration projecting that the U.S. will be a net exporter of natural gas by 2017.
“In other words, there is no domestic need for the additional gas that Nexus would provide,” she said. “It is obvious that we do not need Nexus and that this project is more about corporate greed and selling gas to Canada than meeting legitimate energy needs here in the United States.”
- The Nexus pipeline’s homepage
- NoPipelineHere.com, a collection of links to groups opposing the pipeline
- Public comments on Nexus pipeline (The Daily Telegram, May 6)
- Pipeline may ruin residents’ wells, health officials say (The Blade, May 2)
- 13 questions and answers about the Rover Pipeline (published on this site last year about a different pipeline project, with detailed information about the permitting process)