Originally Posted on July 31st, 2019 by JIM MARTIN

NORTH KINGSVILLE, Ohio — Forty-foot sections of 12-inch steel pipe — a pipe so large you could roll a basketball down the inside — lay in sections along Route 20 last week.

These pipes, which will be buried over the next few weeks, represent the final stages of the $86 million Risberg Pipeline. The pipeline’s owner, Erie-based RH Energytrans, an affiliate of EmKey Energy LLC, has been working to build a 28-mile extension to an existing pipeline, connecting Elk Creek Township in Erie County with North Kingsville.

When the work is finished, probably by mid-fall, it will give Ashtabula County something that’s been missing there for years — enough natural gas to promote industrial growth.

The promise of the pipeline already has set change in motion.

Earlier this year, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency issued an emissions permit for a $474 million pig iron plant in Ashtabula, Ohio. The plant, which is being built by Petmin USA, is expected to employ 500 construction workers and about 110 permanent employees.

After the final section of pipe has been connected, buried and inspected, natural gas — a lot of it — could soon be flowing through the massive pipeline, said Dennis Holbrook, a spokesman for RH Energytrans.

Holbrook said Dominion Energy Ohio has contracted with his company to deliver 40 million cubic feet of natural gas a day, enough to meet the average daily needs of about 150,000 homes. The proposed pig iron plant is expected eventually to boost daily flow to 55 million cubic feet, Holbrook said.

There’s still work to be done, including upgrades to the old pipeline. But construction, which began with clearing land in January, is moving toward completion.

“We’re in the homestretch,” Holbrook said.

A complex project

RH Energytrans isn’t producing the gas, which will flow through the Tennessee Gas Pipeline, a national gas pipeline that for decades has carried gas north from the Texas and Louisiana coast.

That pattern has changed in recent years, Holbrook said.

With the expansion of drilling in places such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia, most of the gas flowing through the Risberg Pipeline will be produced in Pennsylvania and neighboring states.

Moving from concept to reality didn’t happen overnight.

Kyle Rhoades, the chief operating officer for RH Energytrans, said several years were spent on land acquisition, permitting and studying the environmental impact of the project.

The actual construction process begins by welding one 40-foot section of pipe to another and then burying that pipe in the smooth, rock-free bottom of a trench.

Crews were working at several locations last week, including Elk Creek Township, where, at least for a short stretch, the pipeline passed by homes and businesses along Route 6N.

The project, which has provided about 200 construction jobs for much of this year, was rarely as simple as dropping pipe into a ditch.

The pipeline, located on easements purchased at a cost of millions of dollars from more than 100 different landowners, crosses farm fields, follows along the edge of powerline right-a-ways and through wooded areas.

Despite assurances that the disturbed land would be restored and replanted, not everyone wanted to sell access to their land, a process that restricts the landowner from building over top of the pipeline.

“As a result, this pipeline doesn’t always follow a straight line. It zigs and zags here and there,” Holbrook said. He said all of the easements were acquired voluntarily and not through the process of eminent domain.

The need to zig and zag weren’t the only challenges.

En route from Elk Creek Township to North Kingsville, crews had to bore holes to feed pipe beneath Conneaut Creek, Interstate 90, Routes 11 and 20, and below five rail lines.

Safety concerns

Rhoades said the thick-walled pipe is coated to prevent rust and that welds are approved by a third-party inspector.

“Even though this is a rural area, it’s being built to the same design factor as if it were built in a city,” Rhoades said. “100 percent of the welds are X-rayed.”

Rhoades said the pipeline is expected to operate at only a fraction of its rated capacity of 1,440 pounds of pressure per square inch.

“You have that whole margin of safety where it’s overbuilt for the purpose you anticipate,” Holbrook said.

Still, accidents related to natural gas pipelines aren’t unheard of. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration reports that there has been an average of 16 pipeline-related fatalities a year over the past 20 years.

“People always talk about pipeline explosions,” Holbrook said. “My experience is that most explosions are involved with contractor hits,” when pipelines are disrupted. “It’s very rarely a problem with the pipe.”

J. Sam Miller, a member of the executive board of the Sierra Club-Lake Erie Group, has raised safety concerns in the past.

He’s quick to concede, however, that “the statistics suggest safety is a minor part of the problem.”

Miller said his larger concern is that time and money are being invested in natural gas instead of alternative energy forms.

“I see it as another area where the natural gas and oil industries are still expanding and ignoring climate change,” he said. “That is my bottom line. I am struggling with this environmentally.”

Miller said he’s not happy about the development of the pig iron plant that’s expected to follow.

“It (the iron plant) is environmentally nuts,” he said. “It’s not good for Lake Erie.”

Holbrook said he’s not opposed to the development of alternative energy sources.

“I would suggest all of the above in terms of my perspective,” he said. “I don’t believe in any one source to the exclusion of others. I think we need a balance of new technology where that makes sense, but I don’t think you can turn your back on the benefits of natural gas.”

Miller raised another concern in a letter to the editor in which he suggested that the project would provide little financial benefit to Erie.

Holbrook sees it differently, citing the millions paid to landowners and money spent on materials and employee wages.

“The corporate headquarters for this entity is in Erie,” he said. “The back office, the accounting, the measurement, all the legal work and all the engineering — all of those are headquartered in Erie. You have a company that is hopefully going to grow and expand and create additional business opportunities down the road.”

Jim Martin can be reached at 814-870-1668 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at

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