Monday, February 19, 2001

Lake Erie pipeline proposed

Some fear environmental dangers

The Associated Press

        CLEVELAND — A $640 million project seeks to move low-cost natural gas from the Canadian Rockies into heavily populated regions on the U.S. East Coast through a pipeline that would be built under Lake Erie.

        The proposal is drawing opposition from some worried about the environmental effect along its overland route into New York, where there also is concern about the effect on Haverstraw Bay on the Hudson River.

        The path of the Millennium Pipeline would run across the lake bottom from Patrick Point, Ont., to landfall near Ripley, N.Y.

        The route does not pass through Ohio's portion of Lake Erie. The pipeline would run north of Painesville and Ashtabula in Ohio, on the Ontario side of the U.S.-Canadian border that divides the lake.

        There's no doubt that the energy industry views crossing under the Great Lakes as a cheaper alternative to acquiring land rights-of-way for pipelines. Underwater, there are no impedi ments such as homes, farms or roads to go around or tunnel beneath. In fact, other pipeline operators are exploring a 104-mile route under Lake Michigan from Indiana to Milwaukee.

        The Army Corps of Engineers' Chicago office approved a permit last April for the geo-technical survey on that lake's bottom lands.

        If, as expected, the Canada-to-New York crossing wins approval from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this year, the 36-inch-diameter pipeline would begin service in November 2002.

        Steel sections would be welded together on barges and laid over the lake bottom in a trench blown out of the sediment by a high-pressure nozzles.

        About 3,000 feet of pipeline would be set in place each day during offshore construction. Once on the lake bed, the pipe would be encased in concrete.

        Karl Brack, a spokesman for Columbia Gas Transmission Corp., which has a significant stake in the pipeline along with several other energy companies from Canada and the United States, said engineers and scientists who have reviewed the company's plans consider it safe.

        “What we have found is that this pipeline can be built and operated safely in Lake Erie,” Mr. Brack said. “We looked very closely at the environmental concerns, we looked at the science and studied the lake bottom. We think there will be negligible interference with the environment.”

        While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said its research shows the Lake Erie crossing poses a negligible threat to fisheries, the Interior Department believes the pipeline should avoid Lake Erie completely. It recommended a mostly overland route.

        Ten months ago, the department's Fish and Wildlife Service warned that the pipeline could leak pollutants like those from offshore operations already criss-crossing the Gulf of Mexico. The agency said damage assessments showed that some submerged natural gas pipelines leaked an oily condensate that can kill waterfowl and shellfish.


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