Risks of oil and gas pipelines weighed in local forum

A crowd gathers to discuss oil and gas pipelines in Ohio.

An informational forum last Thursday evening in Athens aired concerns and information about proposals to install 70,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines throughout Ohio.

Ohio University's Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics (IAPE) joined with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) to present the event in OU's Porter Hall*.

Topics included the adverse effects these pipelines may have on the environment, potential health risks and dangers for residents who live close to these lines; and legal advice on how to deal with oil and gas companies.

For many area residents, especially those involved in a strong local sustainable food economy, the possible increase of oil and gas pipelines in the area is a major concern. Many of these people attended the forum.

Alyssa Bernstein, director of the IAPE, moderated the three speakers who presented a collection of data, information and advice during the forum. Bernstein gave attendees of the forum an overview of the issues regarding oil and gas pipelines before the speakers' presentations.

While advocates of building more transmission lines for oil and gas maintain the development will provide many new jobs, hasten national energy independence, and improve national security, Bernstein said pipeline critics raise concerns about the negative effects on climate change, the transitory boom and bust nature of fossil-fuel extraction, and the potential for ruining local water supplies and risking explosions near drilling operations.

Ted Auch, program coordinator of the FracTracker Alliance, began the presentations. The FracTracker Alliance is an organization that gathers data on drilling activity in each state and constructs maps in order to provide a visual representation on each state's activity.

During his presentation, Auch displayed several of these maps along with information on potential environmental effects that oil and gas pipelines could have in Ohio, specifically Athens.

"If we're going to talk about pipelines in Ohio, we're going to talk about pipelines in Athens," Auch said.

In his presentation, Auch said that the U.S. Energy Information Administration had not updated its website with specific numbers of mileage and lengths of these pipelines since 2011. Auch said that he, along with researchers at Mt. Union College in Alliance, Ohio, had collected and determined more accurate and recent numbers to present at the forum.

"The numbers are out of date the minute we say them," Auch said, emphasizing the importance of updated information on oil and gas pipelines.

According to Auch, 195,989 miles of oil and gas pipelines are operating nationally, with a 49 percent increase proposed.

Auch discussed environmental damages, including damage to landscapes and ecosystems that oil and gas pipelines could cause.

The next speaker was Nathan Johnson, an attorney for the Ohio Environmental Council. Johnson discussed the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's (OEPA) proposal to eliminate state review of oil and gas pipelines and surface coalmines that pose a hazard to the state's waterways. This means that these pipelines and surface mines would be approved under nationwide permits without a state water quality review. This ruling would also eliminate the requirement of public notice and comment on these projects.

Johnson concluded that the OEPA is "basically abandoning the field" with this proposal, which would result in serious irreversible water quality impacts statewide.

The final speaker was Michael Hollingsworth, an attorney for Shostak & Hollingsworth in Athens. Hollingsworth began by explaining the siting and safety jurisdictions of different project types, such as production lines and natural gas distribution, and what government agencies** would handle them.

Hollingsworth exlained the problems with pipelines that are incorrectly marked and lack maps and easily understandable location references.

"My experience with pipelines is that you often don't know whose pipeline it is, and if you do, it could be marked wrong," Hollingsworth said.

Hollingsworth also discussed the Ohio Constitution's Chapter 163, which states that a company organized to transport natural gas materials through tubing, pipes or conduits may enter private land to examine it for possible pipeline use, and then appropriate as much land as necessary. He said that many people believe that it's unconstitutional for the companies to take this land, but it's only unconstitutional when the state doesn't provide options for appealing these appropriations, which would amount to denial of due-process rights.

Hollingsworth finished his presentation with advice for landowners and their rights with respect to approved pipelines. According to Hollingsworth, it depends on the landowner's willingness to negotiate with the company. A landowner must consider a pipeline's location and width, its burial, its emergency shut-off procedures, reasonable and advance notice of inspection times from the company, compensation for the landowner, and the removal of the pipeline when it's abandoned.

Concerned local residents who could not make it to Thursday's forum will have another opportunity to learn more about Ohio's proposed oil and gas pipelines. Ohio University's IAPE plans to hold a follow-up session to Thursday's forum at a later date.***

Editor's note: This article has been corrected at three locations. *The meeting was not held at the Athens Community Center, as originally reported. ** The word "companies" should have been "government agencies." ***And no approximate date has been set for a follow-up meeting.

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