Gas-To-Oil Pipeline and Carp DNA in Lake Erie

  • A bighead carp at the Shedd Aquarium. The most recent water samples from western Lake Erie turned up 20 positive hits for silver carp DNA. (Photo by Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio)

A Texas company wants to convert a gas pipeline to carry crude oil…

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

A pipeline that supplies much of Michigan’s natural gas could be shut down … and converted to carry crude oil. That’s sparked a number of concerns from business and government. Rina Miller reports.

Natural gas is plentiful and cheap right now.

That’s why a Texas company filed a request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — or FERC —  in July to shut down 770 miles of transmission lines across several states. It would either abandon them … or eventually use the pipes to carry crude oil.

And that could affect how much a lot of people in Michigan will pay to heat their homes and businesses.

The pipeline owned by Trunkline Gas Company crosses into Branch County from Indiana. That’s where Consumers Energy connects to it … and distributes the natural gas to 45 counties in the Lower Peninsula.

Dan Bishop is a Consumers Energy spokesman. He says Consumers depends on Trunkline for 60 percent of the gas it supplies to 1.7 million customers in Michigan.

Consumers Energy has filed an objection to Trunkline’s plan.

“Trunkline has certain contractual requirements with Consumers, and our belief and concern is that if this proposal is approved, there could be serious reliability and service issues following that.”

Bishop says Consumers wants Trunkline to withdraw its proposal as a bad idea.

“If they don’t do that, ideally FERC would deny the request. If they don’t deny this request, we’re asking FERC to conduct a comprehensive hearing, an evidentiary hearing on Trunkline’s request.”

Governor Rick Snyder, the Michigan Public Service Commission and a coalition of large businesses, called ABATE have also filed objections to the proposed pipeline shutdown.

Tamara Young Allen is a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission spokeswoman.

She says converting gas pipelines to crude oil isn’t unusual, but she couldn’t comment specifically on the Michigan case … because the matter is still pending.
“But I can tell you generally that the Commission will take all comments into consideration before making a decision. The Commission is comprised of five presidentially appointed members who serve five-year terms.”

Young Allen says FERC does not regulate the siting of oil pipelines. She says states make those decisions.

Trunkline Gas Company did not respond to requests for comment.

For the Environment Report, I’m Rina Miller.

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This is the Environment Report.

There’s new evidence that Asian carp could be in western Lake Erie.

Last month, crews took 150 water samples from Sandusky Bay and the Sandusky River.  They were testing for traces of genetic material from Asian carp. The results just came back this week.  20 of those samples tested positive for the presence of silver carp.

Now, these positive samples could indicate there are live carp in the lake.  But biologists say the genetic material could’ve also come from dead carp, or fish-eating birds or boats that came into contact with Asian carp.

Duane Chapman is a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.  He says if there are live carp in Lake Erie, there probably are not very many of them.  And he says silver carp are especially hard to catch.

“They avoid nets more than our native fishes. It will be very, very difficult for a crew to go out and intentionally capture an Asian carp in an area where they are very rare. In a place where they’re very rare, it’s going to take an extremely high level of effort and a lot of luck to be able to catch one.”

Crews from the federal government and the states of Ohio and Michigan have been searching for live carp in Lake Erie.  But they haven’t found any yet.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.