Soil is life, dirt is death, and the vast distance between takes a lifetime to cross. Mike Kelley is staring into the chasm and believes part of his farmland will suffer stunted yields for the rest of his life. He says the delicate soil balance, a rich, black elixir sweetened by nature’s alchemy, is lost to a pipeline.
Pipelines and agriculture are a contentious pair, with a growing number of farmers raising concerns over soil health, drainage issues and responses from oil and gas companies.
Mike Kelley grows corn and soybeans in Illinois on some of the most productive ground on the planet—fine drummer soil that consistently churns out 200 bu. corn and 60 bu. soybeans.
In 2015, like it or not, Kelley knew the Enbridge Southern Access Extension Pipeline was going to cross McLean County in the central part of the state. Many of his farming neighbors didn’t want the pipeline to come through, and some dug in their heels to eminent domain, but most acquiesced and took an Enbridge payment. “I understand the public benefit of going through private land and that can mean imposing on individual. I recognize that,” Kelley says.
However, he makes clear that principal and application are not necessarily bedfellows. The pipeline came through two farms leased by Kelley, on no-tilled ground dating back several decades. Kelley, chairman of the McClean County Soil Board, believed his crop production would suffer a sustained degree of yield drag, but pinned his hopes for minimal loss on construction conditions.
With an extremely wet spring soaking central Illinois, Kelley grew increasingly anxious over the prospect of heavy machinery operating on spongy soil. His fears came full circle in June when, according to Kelley, bulldozers began pushing soil aside on ground that was literally too wet for farming fieldwork.
In an emailed statement, Ryan Duffy, communications strategist for Enbridge, acknowledged Kelley raised concerns over wet conditions but says crop production won’t be affected: “A third-party certified professional soil scientist and agronomist visited the pipeline construction area, evaluated the soils and concluded that the conditions did not degrade or otherwise compromise the soils for future crop productivity. As required by the Agricultural Impact Mitigation Agreement between IEPC and the Illinois Department of Agriculture, subsequent restoration was completed in 2016 and future crop productivity should not be impaired.”…