The recent realization by some northwest Columbus residents that a major oil pipeline cuts through the neighborhood, paralleling much of Bethel Road, left a few of them alarmed.

"There are many potential hazards and issues that come with it, such as leakage, tree and plant root problems, and more," Northwest Civic Association President Nick Cipiti wrote in an email inviting people to attend the March 7 meeting at which representatives of Marathon Pipe Line LLC would discuss the pipeline.

The idea was to allay those concerns, but that's not how it worked.

Briefly into the presentation, people in the audience began peppering the oil company's representatives with questions about terrorists taking over the pipeline, the possibility for its presence preventing a community center at the Ohio State University "sheep farm" once it is sold and the potential for the cleared path along the line's right of way to actually create a "clear path" for tornados.

The two Marathon right-of-way specialists and the right-of-way technician were hard-pressed to answer some of the questions.

For example, Greg Goodwin explained the right-of-way clearing is done under guidelines from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. He said the guidelines are intended to make it easier to conduct inspections ensuring the integrity of the line, not to invite tornados or terrorists.

Marathon has more than 64,000 miles of pipeline in 16 states that move in excess of 143 million gallons of crude oil and petroleum products to 200 above-ground storage tanks, including the cluster off Fisher Road in west Columbus, Goodwin said as he began his presentation.

The 6-inch line that runs through the neighborhood originates in Heath and terminates in Dayton, a length of 108 miles. It's been in place since the 1950s, Goodwin said, and carries only finished petroleum products, not crude oil.

At its shallowest, according to Michael Preston, the right-of-way technician, the line is about 18 inches from the surface, but mostly it is buried 3 to 5 feet deep.

"It comes up and down with the terrain," Preston said.

Preston urged people living in the vicinity of the pipeline to call 811 before digging for planting trees or shrubs, installing fences, patios or decks, digging a pond or installing outdoor lighting.

"We're going to call you and we're going to show up," he said.

Under Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration guidelines, Marathon and the other owners of pipelines must inspect them for integrity 21 times a year, with no more than 21 days between inspections, Preston said.

Marathon conducts more inspections than that, he said.

"We don't just do what regulators say," said Brian Phillips, another right-of-way specialist.

Marathon Pipe Line LLC personnel clear a 50-foot right of way, 25 feet on either side of the lines, mowing it every three years and trimming trees every six, Phillips said.

"Right-of-way clearing boils down to one thing, and that is safety," he said.