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New proposed pipeline could increase risks to water resources in SE Ohio

Over the past few years, oil and gas companies have proposed a massive initiative known as the Appalachian Petrochemical Hub, which would dominate the upper sections of the Ohio River Watershed. The intent of this Hub is to centralize oil and gas infrastructure – pipelines and wells – and then integrate this infrastructure with chemical manufacturing operations nearby that rely on oil and natural gas for their production.

Last month, the Ohio EPA held a hearing for one of the first pieces of that massive proposal: The Falcon Ethane Pipeline, proposed by the Shell Pipeline Company. Ethane is a chemical extracted from natural gas wells alongside other substances like butane and propane. It is transported via liquid natural gas pipelines, a type of pipeline that is very different from the more commonly known pipelines crossing Ohio, like Rover and NEXUS. Just like an ordinary natural gas, ethane, propane, and butane are flammable and can devastate a community if ignited while in transit.

When we learned about the proposed pipeline that would wind through Cadiz, Ohio and neighboring communities, we urged the Ohio EPA to hold a public hearing on the pipeline, because we believed the people this project will affect need to have a voice in the process.

We also tapped into our Law Center’s expertise in water quality certifications, which are required of this proposed project and submitted comments on the Shell Pipeline Company’s application. Our comments urged the Ohio EPA to ensure utmost safety and protection of streams, wetlands and other freshwater resources..

First, here’s a few facts about the Falcon Ethane Pipeline and the larger Appalachian Petrochemical Hub.

The Falcon Pipeline

The Falcon Ethane Pipeline will transport ethane from Cadiz, Ohio to a petrochemical plant near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, crossing the Ohio River along the way.

The Ohio portion of the pipeline (about 43.6 miles) will cost approximately $80 million if it follows the path proposed by Shell.

The pipeline, if approved under the current proposal, would impact 131 streams and 68 wetlands in Ohio.

Because the pipeline crosses streams and wetlands, Shell must receive a 401 Water Quality Certification from the Ohio EPA as required by the Clean Water Act and Ohio laws and regulations. If the company violates the terms of this permit when building its project, the Ohio EPA can pursue legal action (just as they are pursuing legal action against the Rover Pipeline).

The Appalachian Petrochemical Hub

The Appalachian Petrochemical Hub is a proposed multi-state project that will expand the infrastructure of southeast Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and northwestern West Virginia to handle increased production of ethane, butane, and other petrochemical products. It has already received significant financial backing from foreign investment groups (for example, over $80 billion from a Chinese corporation).

Petrochemical plants near the source of extraction (i.e., the Utica and Marcellus Shale formations) decrease transportation costs of these products to other regions of the country like Louisiana, and allow the communities along the Ohio River to profit from plastic and other commodities.

However, environmental and public health risks come with this type of petrochemical development. Every factory, every pipeline (including the Falcon Pipeline), every storage facility has the potential to  increase air pollution, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions in the region. It will also further enable fossil fuel extraction throughout the region, especially valuable ecological locations like the Wayne National Forest.

The Ohio EPA and Shell’s 401 Water Quality Certification Application

The OEC commented on Shell’s 401 Water Quality Certification Application for two primary reasons. First, the application lacked substantial information on the potential route alternatives and mitigation efforts. In our comments we pushed for the Ohio EPA to either require Shell to provide additional information or deny the application.

Second, we emphasized to the Ohio EPA the particular importance of the 401 Water Quality Certification for these types of projects. Because the Falcon Ethane Pipeline is not a natural gas pipeline, it is not regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission like other pipelines you might have heard about, such as Rover, NEXUS, and the Buckeye XPress pipelines. Without FERC oversight of the Falcon Pipeline, it means that Ohio EPA and its counterparts in West  Virginia and Pennsylvania are the only agencies reviewing the proposed project.

As such, we believe that the Ohio EPA must provide greater scrutiny to these sorts of projects, especially because it may represent the beginning of the proposed Appalachian Petrochemical Hub. Approving one project could  set off a chain of future applications, and perhaps compounding the environmental impacts throughout the Ohio River’s watershed.

When the Ohio EPA releases its decision regarding Shell’s potential 401 Water Quality Certification, we will review it to ensure it complies with applicable Ohio law. We are hopeful the Ohio EPA will do its due diligence to ensure the project doesn’t threaten nearby communities and our precious natural resources.