Martins Ferry Times Reporter. Standing in an open field covered in straw under a sweltering September sun, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson and a Kinder Morgan executive discussed the federal regulatory process and energy independence during a tour of the nearly completed Utopia Pipeline.
Allen Fore, vice president for public affairs for Kinder Morgan, said the company’s pipeline is 98 percent finished and should go in service by the end of the year.
On Thursday, Kinder Morgan employees took the congressman to Warren Township, where the pipeline crosses New Cumberland Road south of state Route 212. No portion of the pipeline was visible. There was just an open expanse of land along its path.
“This is what pipelines look like right here,” Fore told Johnson. “Give this a year, give this a season …′
Johnson finished his sentence, “Next year, there will be soybeans growing here.”
He added, “I wish more Americans could see what things look like when you guys get done.”
The 215-mile Utopia Pipeline, which travels through Harrison, Carroll and Tuscarawas counties, will carry ethane gas from a MarkWest processing facility in Cadiz to an existing Kinder Morgan pipeline in northwest Ohio. From there, the ethane will be taken to the Nova Chemicals plant in Windsor, Ontario, where it will be turned into plastics.
Work began on the $540 million project in February.
The main pipeline is already done, Fore said. It has been welded and inspected, and the company is now in the process of hydro-testing it to guarantee the integrity of the pipe. There are just a few connections that still need to be finished.
“The construction of a project like this is really the easy part,” he said. “It’s a very simple process. The tough part is the regulatory process. We want to meet and exceed all of the environmental protections that the state of Ohio or whatever state has. And we can do that. If we know the regulatory scheme ahead of time, we can put together a plan to address that. The problem is when it keeps moving.”
Johnson responded, “The reason it keeps moving is because there is so much overlap, redundancy, duplication. The regulatory agencies don’t talk to one another, so one agency doesn’t take the other agency’s word for it. If you’re trying to find out what the soil composition is right here, by God, one federal agency ought to be able to take another federal agency’s word for it that we’ve done the testing and here’s what it is. That’s the kind of mind-boggling frustration we’re dealing with at the federal level.”
Their discussion then turned to energy independence for America.
“When you talk about energy independence, you’ve got to look at what the word independence means,” Johnson said. “It means you’re not dependent on somebody else. I would submit to you that we are already — and have been for a long time — energy independent, because we have the capability of not asking anybody else for help with our energy resources.
“We are not energy secure because we choose not to be. Our policies make us energy insecure. The president’s changing that conversation because we’re no longer talking about energy independence and security, we’re talking about energy dominance. And when we want to be the big kingpin at the head of the table determining global energy policies and directing the performance of global energy markets, we’ve got to have a permitting process and philosophy that says, let’s go. Let’s move out.”
Johnson said the work done to restore the land after the Utopia Pipeline was constructed is similar to reclamation work he has seen at strip mines in southern Ohio.
“There’s a right way and a wrong way to do this stuff, and I think we’ve learned over generations that the right way is the better way,” he said. “We need to take advantage of our own natural resources. That’s what this is all about.”
By Jon Baker
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