MANSFIELD -- Mile by mile, the $4.2 billion Rover Pipeline project is making its way across Richland County.
It's arriving with money and controversy.
The Rover Pipeline begins in Southeastern Ohio, Western West Virginia and Southwestern Pennsylvania before it travels northwest across Ohio. It crosses the upper half of Richland County as well as through neighboring Ashland and Crawford counties, and concludes in Livingston County, Michigan. The pipeline is designed to transport 3.25 billion cubic feet of natural gas daily.
A fraction, 35 out of the total 713 miles, runs through Richland County, and this portion is expected to be complete by early summer. A second pipeline, which will run parallel to the first, should be complete this fall.
The 713-mile pipeline is bringing more than natural gas through the county; it’s bringing business that fuels the local economy.
Businesses like Ashland Railway, where a pipeline construction yard is located, and Emerson Automation Solutions, where a component for the pipeline was manufactured, are realizing dollars just like local restaurants and hotels, where the workers eat and sleep.
Barrett Thomas, Director of Economic Development for the Richland County Development Group (RCDG), explained the construction yard located on Ashland Railway’s property is the key to the local economic impact.
“Each morning when those guys go to work, they stop by that construction yard,” Thomas said. “So that means they are going to stay somewhere close.”
They eat somewhere close. They shop somewhere close; and they find fun things to do somewhere close to that construction yard.
“Ashland Railway is proud to have played a role in bringing these companies and their employees to the area and we are pleased to see the positive economic impact it has had on Richland and Ashland counties,” said Steve Nielson, senior marketing and sales director. “In our conversations with these companies, we know they are frequent customers at local restaurants, hotels, hardware stores and other businesses, which is helping the local economy.”
Still, the pipeline has created issues. Last week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ordered all horizontal directional drilling (HDD) is required to stop along the Rover project.
A letter from FERC stated that HDDs must stop until the company receives authorization to proceed.
Brigham McCown, United States’ senior energy and dangerous goods transport chief under President George W. Bush, offered an informed opinion on the situation.
"I don't think it's as big of a deal as some are making it out to be," McCown said in an exclusive interview with the Richland Source. "I think FERC is doing it out of an abundance of caution."
McCown grew up in southern Ohio, but at one time his job was to oversee most of the nation's energy transportation, via air, sea, railways, pipelines and more.
"We need (pipelines). We use them everyday," McCown said. "But pipeline companies need to be careful when operating them and installing them."
The latter point is what upsets local critics of the Rover Pipeline. The project has had a series of violations, which includes an estimated 50,000-gallon spill in Mifflin Township on April 14. Drilling fluids were dumped into wetlands near Amoy-Pavonia Road by crews working on the Rover Pipeline, according to documents filed with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
“We have experienced a small number of inadvertent releases of 'drilling mud' during horizontal drilling in Ohio,” Energy Transfer spokesperson, Alexis Daniel said in an email statement May 9. “The drilling mud, which is a mixture of naturally occurring bentonite clay and water and is safe for the environment, is used to help facilitate horizontal directional drills (HDDs) and is used in all types of infrastructure projects that use HDDs as a part of the construction process.”
Richland County Engineer Adam Gove said the only Richland County location that could be affected is where the pipeline crosses the Black Fork of the Mohican River at the Richland and Ashland County line.
"The inspector I talked to believed that they were already underway with that process and would be allowed to continue, but he did say that this location was under a different inspector’s authority, and was not positive about where they were in the process,” Gove said.
In addition, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency levied a $430,000 fine against Energy Transfer for water and air pollution violations.
Finally, on May 19, Rover Pipeline issued a statement regarding stormwater management:
"Rover Pipeline understands the concerns of Ohio farmers related to the issues caused by the unprecedented recent rainfall in the state, which have caused our construction workspace and pipeline trenches to fill with water.
"We are working with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency (FERC) and the impacted farmers to remove the water from our construction workspace as quickly and as efficiently as possible, while at the same time avoiding and minimizing impacts to crops and working within the bounds of our certificated right-of-way as approved by FERC."
But the economic benefits of the pipeline project can't be ignored either.
Jeff Litzinger, co-owner the Backroom Bar and Grille, 880 Laver Rd., said workers frequently stop in for breakfast, dinner and evening entertainment including dart competitions, accounting for a 30- to 35-percent increase in sales.
“They are away from home, so they are looking for things to do,” Litzinger said.
While he’ll miss their business when they go, he’s thankful that the workers have drawn attention to the restaurant.
“A lot of people didn’t know we served breakfast,” he said. “But when people see the parking lot full of cars, it helps us.”
Richland County Commissioner, Marilyn John has noticed an increase in sales tax, which she believes might be associated with the pipeline project.
“All these people are spending money in Richland County. Therefore, we’ve seen an uptick in our sales tax just over the last couple of months,” John said. “It’s not huge. It’s not a windfall, but it’s a slight uptick in our sales tax, and with some of the challenges we are seeing from the state, that uptick is definitely needed right now.”
She knows the workers leave the county in a few months, but hopes some will later return to the area, bringing their friends and families.
“They are not only spending their money here, but they’re having a great experience here, so that’s helping us from a marketing standpoint,” John said. “We want them to be thinking of this as a vacation spot even.
"It’s a great opportunity for us to really shine to all these people coming in ... I hope all the residents are taking advantage of that.”
A 2015 Rover Pipeline press release estimated the project would spend more than $85 million with Ohio-based companies. Among the vendors listed in this release was Emerson Process Management, now known as Emerson Automation Solutions, Actuation Technologies, at 2500 Park Ave W, Ontario.
Emerson manufactures valve actuation systems that open and close many of the valves on the Rover pipeline. Mike McQuade, senior product manager at Emerson, called it a “major project” that took approximately one month of production capacity.
The “actuators,” or valve control systems, can be equipped with their own intelligence capabilities. The actuation systems are capable of closing valves if they sense abnormal conditions through an automatic line break detection system.
“If for some reason there should be an abnormal release of gas, the actuators can be signaled to close the valves in order to minimize escaping gases,” said Tom Young, Inside Sales/Quotation at the Mansfield facility.
The actuators were taken to a warehouse until ready for installation along the pipeline. Emerson has worked with Energy Transfer Partners, the Houston-based company that runs the pipeline project, for decades. Their actuators are already in use in other pipelines throughout the United States.