The wild grass is only now beginning to hide the scar left by the giant ditch digger that gouged a trench though Ron Kardos' Oceola Township, Mich. pasture last year for an oil pipeline—but already Kardos is preparing for another onslaught of construction.
Earlier this week Kardos got a letter from Energy Transfer Partners, a Houston, Texas-based company, saying a subsidiary—ET Rover Pipeline Company LLC—intends to build an interstate pipeline to move natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale gas formations in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio to a terminal in Ontario, Canada.
The 365-mile Rover Pipeline will cross Ohio and Michigan and ultimately carry 3.25 billion cubic feet per day if plans are approved. Much of the line would follow the route of the oil pipeline that Alberta, Canada-based Enbridge, Inc. built on Kardos' property and that of other central Michigan residents. It replaced Enbridge's aging Line 6b, which ruptured in 2010 and spilled more than a million gallons of heavy crude oil into Michigan's Kalamazoo River.
Before construction can begin on the Rover Pipeline, the project must be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the lead federal agency responsible for conducting environmental reviews of proposed interstate pipelines. But Energy Transfer Partners seems so confident of obtaining FERC's approval that it announced Thursday that it has already signed long-term agreements with multiple shippers and has set a date of June 2017 to have the pipeline running
Energy Transfer spokeswoman Vicki Granado did not return phone calls asking for comment for this story.
Obtaining early commitments from shippers isn't unusual, said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit watchdog organization based in Bellingham, Wash.
"It's a sort of, 'If we build it, will you come?' sort of thing" that serves two purposes, Weimer said. It allows a company to gauge whether a new pipeline will be financially successful and gives the company leverage in persuading FERC that the project is needed.
FERC's approval is vital because it empowers a pipeline company to exercise eminent domain and take whatever land it needs to build the pipeline. The company must compensate landowners for their loss, but as residents like Kardos see it, FERC's Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity is nothing more than a license to steal.
"It gives them the right to take whatever they want with little regard of what it means to the people," he said.
FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen said the agency doesn't grant eminent domain without seriously considering landowner concerns. The review process, which can take as long as two years, gives the public multiple opportunities to raise objections to the project. Young-Allen said the agency could order changes to the pipeline route if compelling arguments are made.
In the end, she said, the agency tries to balance what's best for the millions of people who depend on the gas and for the landowners who will have to surrender part of their property.
Kardos is still angry about the Enbridge project that ate up a section of his 50-acre property. He said he won't surrender any more land without a fight.
Although Enbridge had an existing right-of-way on his property from the old 6B Line, the company used eminent domain to obtain more land. The company cut down about 50 trees, ripped through his garden and dug up his pasture.
"It was just destruction," he said. "I'm not anxious for that to happen again."
The letters that Energy Transfer sent to landowners along the route said the company will host 10 community meetings in four states where residents can see maps showing the Rover Pipeline's approximate location. FERC requires community meetings for pipeline projects, in part so the public can learn how the formal protest process works.
"Project Team members will be available to answer your questions, explain project details, and listen to any comments about the project," the letter said.
Jeffrey Insko, an American literature professor at Oakland University in Rochester, called the letter "deeply disturbing" on his Line 6b Citizens' Blog because it implies that the project is already a done deal.
"One can only assume this is a deliberate strategy to make landowners feel helpless; it has almost certainly further demoralized them," he wrote.
The question is whether landowners' objections to the project will be taken seriously, said Barry Rabe, director of the University of Michigan's Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy at the Ford School.
"Is this an earnest effort to engage the citizenry, or is it a dog and pony show where there isn't any give on the proposal?" Rabe asked.