Op-Ed: Agriculture and Pipelines Can Peacefully Co-Exist

Written by: Aaron DeJoia, Duraroot, LLC

Aldo Leopold, author of A Sand County Almanac and a founder in the science of wildlife management summarized the integration of farming and our nation’s energy resources when he stated, “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”Growing up in a small farming community of 300 people, I never expected to find myself actively involved in the oil and gas industry. I headed off to college to study Agronomy and eventually went on to get a Master’s degree in Soil

Growing up in a small farming community of 300 people, I never expected to find myself actively involved in the oil and gas industry. I headed off to college to study Agronomy and eventually went on to get a Master’s degree in Soil Science. Fast-forward seventeen years, and my career path as a soil scientist in the oil and gas industry is allowing me to help the nation be-come more energy independent, while protecting the soil as a natural resource.

The production and transportation of American produced oil and gas is not without challenges. The extracted natural gas must be transported from the supply regions to market areas through pipelines. Much of the natural gas infrastructure that we use today was built after World War II through some of the nation’s most productive food producing regions—Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company LLC (Transco) being one of them.

In recent years, the natural gas supply land-scape has changed dramatically and today, the Marcellus supply area has become one of the most prolific natural gas production areas in the U.S. Transporting this resource requires new pipelines and the expansion of existing pipeline systems to be built across many types of land use including agricultural areas in Pennsylvania and beyond.

Many people believe that pipelines and agricul-ture cannot co-exist, but I have found this to be completely untrue. Installation and operation of a natural gas pipeline can co-exist with agricul-ture, causing minimal long-term impacts on crop production. The short-term impacts of the pipeline construction are real and not al-ways visually appealing, but it is my respon-sibility as an agronomist and soil scientist to ensure the productivity of our nation’s most precious natural resource, soil, is returned.

Working with Transco’s Atlantic Sunrise proj-ect team over the past two years, we have reviewed the soils along the route, develop-ing construction and reclamation plans to protect the natural resources throughout the project. The plans for protecting and reclaim-ing the soils along the Atlantic Sunrise route have not always been required from a regu-latory perspective, but as the team stressed the first day on the project, “Do what is right, not what is cheapest.” The Atlantic Sunrise team has committed to topsoil salvage in ag-ricultural lands, cover crops to build and pro-tect soils, an agricultural reclamation plan, and fulltime agricultural inspectors during construction.

In my opinion, the item that will have the largest benefit is the commitment to full-time Agricultural Inspectors. Agricultural Inspec-tors have experience and training specific to reclamation of agricultural land. These individuals understand the challenges faced by the farming community every day, and more specifically, the challenges of having a pipeline cross your genera-tional property. The Agricultural Inspector understands the farm-ing lifestyle and desire to leave your piece of earth better than when you began.

Everyone on the pipeline has a unique and important job, and the Agricultural Inspector’s job is to ensure appropriate practices, topsoil salvage, topsoil/subsoil segregation, replacement of soil to the trench-line, and decom-paction are followed throughout the process. Transco has made a commitment to employing the most qualified personnel on this job. In addition to having full-time Agricultural Inspec-tors, Transco will train their environmental inspec-tors on the agricultural issues associated with the pipeline providing additional eyes and ears in the field to identify and remedy potential issues before they become problems.

The Atlantic Sunrise team is also going to deter-mine topsoil depths throughout all agricultural land, by utilizing NRCS (Natural Resources Conserva-tion Service) soil survey data and Certified Profes-sional Soil Scientists. Certified Professional Soil Scientists are certified by the Soil Science Society of America, and are required to meet educational and work experience, passed board-administered exams and are bound by a professional ethical code of conduct. The expertise these individuals provide will ensure the appropriate topsoil depths are identified and the soil is appropriately salvaged, based on regulatory guidelines and soil science principals. The identification of appropriate top-soil depths will provide for the preservation of this crucial natural resource and improve reclamation success in these fields that feed both America and the world.

Having been on many teams who have reclaimed around one million acres of pipeline right-of-way, I can say that Transco’s Atlantic Sunrise team is us-ing the most up-to-date soil and agronomic science available. Undoubtedly, complications may occur, but I feel the Atlantic Sunrise team is committed to quickly and scientifically fixing any problem that arises, and returning the land back to full productiv-ity as quickly as possible.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself.”

[Editor’s Note: Aaron DeJoia from Duraroot, LLC is a Certified Professional Soil Scientist (CPSS); Certified Professional Agronomist (CPAg); and a Certified Crop Advisor (CCA).]

This article was originally published in The PennAg Journal.