The Ohio State University (OSU) will begin a first-of-its-kind study this fall to determine how natural gas pipeline installation affects the productivity of agricultural land in a project that could help improve development as more infrastructure is built to serve basins across the country.

Over the next three years, OSU’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences will survey and take samples from 50 fields statewide. Kinder Morgan Inc. (KMI), one of North America’s largest midstream companies, has donated $200,000 in seed funds. Samples will be taken before Kinder begins construction on its 215-mile Utica To Ontario Pipeline Access (Utopia) project and after the line has been installed.

Ohio is ground zero for studying soil disturbance on croplands, especially as more pipelines are set to be built in the state to serve Utica and Marcellus shale production. The state is home to 75,000 farms sustained by 14 million acres of land, according to the Ohio Farm Bureau. The farming industry supports one in seven Ohio jobs.

“We’re very appreciative of the leadership that Kinder Morgan is providing here,” said OSU soil fertility specialist Steve Culman. “This operation will affect a lot of acres, nationally and locally within the state of Ohio. A lot of landowners are being affected by this. They are genuinely interested in understanding it.”

KMI Vice President of Public Affairs Allen Fore said the company saw a rare opportunity in the study to examine the effectiveness of its best practices and determine if any better land restoration alternatives could be learned.

“One of the anecdotal things we’ve found is that soil segregation, peeling it off the surface and putting it back on, has had a negligible impact on crop yield,” Fore told NGI’s Shale Daily. “We’ve worked with thousands of landowners across the state and that’s one of the things we’re hearing. To our knowledge, though, there hasn’t been a detailed, empirical study by a major academic institution on this.”

About a decade ago, when little pipeline development was taking place in the state, KMI helped implement an agricultural impact mitigation agreement (AIMA) in cooperation with the Ohio Farm Bureau and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. At the time, the company was developing the Rockies Express Pipeline, which it later sold (see Daily GPI, Nov. 14, 2012). The AIMA was drawn up and attached to easements to address farmers’ concerns about the impacts of pipeline construction on their lands.

“It set the standards at that time to move forward with pipeline construction on croplands in Ohio,” Fore said, adding that the agreement continues to serve as a guideline for KMI and midstream companies across the United States.

KMI was interested in learning more about the effects pipelines have on agricultural lands. It had a meeting with OSU and decided to donate to the research. It will have no part in the study, other than to let researchers know exactly where Utopia will be installed, Fore said. The company also hopes to learn from the study, especially at a time when the benefits and safety of pipeline development are being fiercely debated across the country.

“I think that if as part of the study, process improvements can be made, then we would welcome that information,” Fore said. “The bottom line here is before this study, and even before the AIMA, we wanted to restore property to as good as we found it. It’s always helpful to have additional input, especially from respected experts like those at the Ohio State University, to find additional areas or practices that we can improve and do what we’ve always intended to do.”

Utopia is a common carrier project that would include 215 miles of 12-inch diameter pipeline constructed entirely within Ohio from Harrison County to Fulton County. The pipeline would connect with an existing KMI pipeline and associated facilities to transport ethane and ethane-propane mixtures to the petrochemical market in Ontario. It would have an initial capacity of 50,000 b/d that could be expanded to 75,000 b/d.

Fore said some preliminary work on the pipeline could begin by the end of the year. But he added that the company is still waiting for some permits and authorizations. The bulk of construction is expected to begin early next year with an in-service date scheduled for 2018. KMI said in June it would sell a 50% stake in the project to Riverstone Investment Group LLC (see Daily GPI, June 29).