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Duke pipeline plan ignites firestorm of protest

Posted: 12:00 PM, May 24, 2016
Updated: 2016-05-24 16:00:10Z

The images are spectacular and frightening.

Bright yellow flames twice as tall as the trees in the foreground. Vinyl siding melted on a house a quarter mile away.

That followed a May 1 explosion of a 15-mile-long section of the Spectra Energy Texas East Transmission Line in a rural area east of Pittsburgh that blew a 12-foot-deep, 1,500-square-foot hole in the ground and scorched 40 acres.

According to National Public Radio , a 25-foot section of 30-inch pipe landed 10 feet away.

That’s the same diameter of pipe that Duke Energy wants to use in the natural gas transmission pipeline it proposes to build in northern Hamilton County, and that’s why Duke’s proposal is of particular concern to residents there.

One of the three proposed routes passes within 100 feet of the home of Elizabeth Rueve-Miller, one of the organizers of Neighbors Opposed to Pipeline Expansion , which is organizing opposition to the pipeline.

“Our concern is safety,” she said. “I can’t imagine why anyone would think it’s OK to build it there.”

Or as the NOPE Facebook page puts it, “This is NOT like a service line that delivers power to your house. This is a massive, high-pressure transportation highway for natural gas. This is the kind of pipeline that you hear about on national news when it fails — causing death, or injuries, and massive destruction of property.”

You can find more thoughts from concerned residents on the website of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio , which Duke Energy Ohio has applied to for a permit to build the pipeline. As of Wednesday, 109 public comments had been submitted to the commission about the pipeline, all of them expressing concerns about at least one route.

The three proposed routes for the project, which Duke spokesperson Sally Thelen said is expected to cost $100 million, are as follows. (All routes begin just north of Interstate 275 near Fields Ertel Road and head roughly south. See map.)

A map provided by Duke Energy shows the proposed routes for its gas transmission line in northern Hamilton County.

The “Green” route jogs west to Evendale and then south along Reading Road through Golf Manor to just outside Norwood. The “Pink” route heads south through Blue Ash and Amberley Village before it also ends outside Norwood. The “Orange” route goes through Deer Park, Kenwood and Madeira before ending near Fairfax.

The three proposed routes for the project, which Duke spokesperson Sally Thelen said is expected to cost $100 million, are as follows. (All routes begin just north of Interstate 275 near Fields Ertel Road and head roughly south. See map.) The “Green” route jogs west to Evendale and then south along Reading Road through Golf Manor to just outside Norwood. The “Pink” route heads south through Blue Ash and Amberley Village before it also ends outside Norwood. The “Orange” route goes through Deer Park, Kenwood and Madeira before ending near Fairfax.

Geoffrey and Kathryn Grant, who live on St. Regis Drive in Sycamore Township, wrote expressing their concerns about the Orange route. Aside from safety concerns, they said they were also worried that construction would require knocking down many old-growth trees on their street and others that would adversely affect the value of their home.

Duke would require a 30-foot easement for the pipeline, in which all trees would have to be removed, Thelen said.

Robert Browning, who also lives on St. Regis Drive, wrote to say he supported the Green route because it seemed to have the fewest residential and business obstacles. He opposed the Orange route because it would surround his house and put him out of business.

“I am retired and depend heavily (one-third of my total income) on the music studio in my home,” he wrote.

Duke is working on narrowing its proposal to two routes, Thelen said, which it will present in June to the Ohio Power Siting Board, an entity within the commission that approves construction of major gas and electric lines. The board will then determine whether the routes are viable and, if so, would give Duke the green light. Duke would then start negotiating with landowners for easements, Thelen said, with a view to start construction in the summer of 2017 and finish by the end of 2018.

The company concluded in 2015 that it would need to expand its infrastructure to meet growing demand, Thelen said.

“We certainly know that we want to get gas to the Greater Cincinnati area,” she said. “Our goal is to do it with the least amount of disruption.”

Another issue that worries residents is that Duke has never operated a 30-inch pipeline. The company operates about 235 miles of 16- to 26-inch pipelines in Ohio and Kentucky, Thelen said, which it inspects twice a year.

According to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, in Ohio, Duke has had just one significant pipeline incident in the past 10 years, when a Hamilton County pipeline was damaged in an excavation in November 2011. That caused nearly $100,000 in property damage.

PHMSA defines significant natural gas incidents as those which cause more than $50,000 in property damage or caused a fire or explosion.

Using PHMSA data, in 2012, ProPublica, a Washington-based nonprofit that does investigative reporting, reported on how safe America’s 2.5 million miles of natural gas and gasoline/oil pipelines were. It found that pipelines are safer than trucking natural gas or gasoline on the highway, just as flying is safer than driving. But by the same token, when pipelines fail, the results are often disastrous, much like a plane crash.

One of the biggest problems with pipeline safety is that more than half the nation’s pipelines are at least 50 years old, which means some are starting to rust. Corrosion has caused 15-20 percent of all significant incidents since 1986, ProPublica reported.

NPR reported that PHMSA’s preliminary investigation of the recent Spectra Energy explosion that has so worried Hamilton County residents showed evidence of corrosion, indicating a possible flaw in material used to coat weld joints when the pipeline was built in 1981.

It surely won’t make locals feel any better that, according to NPR, Spectra inspected the pipeline in 2012 and saw no areas “that needed repair or remediation before the next inspection.”

This information from Duke, however, might be somewhat reassuring: Thelen said the company plans to design its pipeline for a maximum operating pressure of 720 pounds per inch, but operate it using pressures of only 500 to 650 pounds per inch.