by Maria Maybee, Great Lakes United
The Millennium Pipeline Project proposes to construct a high-pressure, high-volume pipeline to move 700 million cubic feet of natural gas per day from the Canadian Rockies in southwest Ontario to New York City and other eastern U.S. markets. A 93.8-mile portion of the pipeline would be run under Lake Erie. This project is unprecedented for at least two reasons: (1) No high-pressure natural gas transmission line transverses any of the Great Lakes, and (2) no high-pressure natural gas transmission line transverses a lake or sea bottom known to be subject to ice scour.
Do we want Lake Erie to be the subject of such a high-risk experiment?
TransCanada Pipelines Limited, Westcoast Energy Inc., MCN Investment Corporation, and Columbia Gas Transmission Corporation view crossing under this Great Lake as a cheaper alternative to acquiring land rights-of-way for pipelines. There are no impediments such as homes, farms, or roads to go around or tunnel beneath.
However, a high-pressure, high-volume pipeline under Lake Erie raises issues regarding the potential immediate and long-term effects on aquatic habitats and species during construction, maintenance, and repairs, not to mention accidents.
National Fuel has a plan to supply natural gas to New York City and other eastern United States markets that does not go under the Lake, but goes around it instead.
Lake Erie has received its share (or more than its share) of toxic residue from point and non-point sources for decades. Disturbance of lake sediments could reintroduce past-buried contaminants from the lake bottom to the food and water chains. Testing for this potential has been minimal (only 6 samples for 93.8-miles of lakebed). Considering the vast area the project will affect, six samples does not reflect the sediment deposition patterns in Lake Erie. Fish advisories already warn of the dangers associated with human consumption of Lake Erie aquatic species. Any increased impact to aquatic life from disturbed polluted sediments is unacceptable and potentially harmful not only to the aquatic habitat but to humans as well.
Even if there were not toxins, suspended sediment and turbidity levels near the construction sites will impact aquatic life to an unknown extent in this first-of-a-kind freshwater lake crossing. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has concerns with increased turbidity during installation, potential long-term effects of benthic organisms along the pipeline trench, possible disruption of fish migrations along the trench and the mortality of wildlife associated with any leaks that could occur. The project does not address how the companies will protect and conserve aquatic resources for generations to come. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers assessed the Millennium Pipeline Project on three issues related to its proposed crossing of Lake Erie: (1) the potential for pipeline damage by ice scour, (2) the adequacy of the sampling program to identify contaminated sediments, and (3) the adequacy of the modeling for turbidity and sediment deposition resulting from pipeline-trench excavation. The Corps has said its research shows the Lake Erie crossing poses a negligible threat to fisheries.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers defines the issue of ice scours as follows: high winds on Lake Erie can fracture and pile ice into large ridges. Ice scour occurs when the keels of these ridges drag along the lakebed. To avoid damage, a pipeline must be designed to withstand the forces from an ice scour expected to cross the pipeline, on average, once in 100 years. The design trench depth must place the pipe crown sufficiently below the scour depth to keep pipe deformations within acceptable limits. The Corps was concerned with the determination of the 100-year ice scour depth.
The original analysis relied solely on data from a single survey along the pipeline route. Modeling was used to determine changes to the proposal, agreed upon by the Millennium Pipeline Project and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. If their analysis is wrong, one windy cold winter could possibly show us — the hard way — what really happens to the lakebed from the keels of large ice ridges.
The pipeline project has yet to propose procedures for emergency response and/or repair of the pipeline. With this last statement alone, should we even consider this project if an emergency response, one of the most critical components of the entire project, is not yet established? What if something goes wrong and the emergency procedures are not adequate to protect habitat and water supply?
It doesn’t make sense to jeopardize a recovering biologically productive freshwater body resource for a limited supply of fuel which could be transported around the lake.
With many international organizations and governments on all sides of Lake Erie working toward protecting the Great Lakes, is this an acceptable future for Lake Erie?
Please write to the following people; let them know that THE BOTTOM OF LAKE ERIE IS NO PLACE FOR THIS MASSIVE PIPELINE.
Please send your letters to: David P. Boergers, Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First St., N.E., Washington, DC 20426. Be certain to identify the project and include the docket number: Millennium Pipeline Company, L.P. Docket Number CP98-150. Folks in Canada, write to FERC; they are making decisions impacting your lake! Opportunities for intervention to the Federal Minister of the Environment will be announced when that side of the process begins to move.
Visit www.glu.org to review a letter sent to FERC and take action to protect Lake Erie.