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Boyle County dealing with possibility of NGL pipeline

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Kentucky Press News Service

By Pam Wright
The Advocate-Messenger

A panel of pipeline industry experts fielded questions Thursday about the safety and environmental impact of a plan to repurpose a pipeline in Boyle County to carry natural gas liquids (NGLs) and had the answer to some questions, didn't know the answer to others and provided fodder for some newly emerging concerns.

Several hundred people — including city, county and state officials, and residents from Boyle and other counties — packed the public meeting room at InterCounty Energy to learn more about Kinder Morgan Energy Partner's proposal to repurpose Line 1 of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline system, which will be the first undertaking of this magnitude in the United States.

Ryan McCreery, public affairs manager for Kinder Morgan; Tom Fitzgerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council; and Joe Mataich, director of community assistance and technical services with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, were on hand to field questions from concerned residents that ranged from the risk of having the proposed pipeline run through residential areas to the dangers to the city's drinking water. Kinder Morgan proposes to build the line under Herrington Lake, which supplies Danville's water.

Residents voiced concerns after learning that federal pipeline inspectors were "spread thin," with no more than 12 engineers responsible for the entire southeastern region of the United States.

"We're a very small agency with a big mission," said Mataich. "We have maybe 11 or 12 engineers that are actually out doing inspections on the pipelines, investigating accidents on pipelines, that type of thing. So we're a very small agency, and we're spread very thin."

Because staff is limited, the Office of Pipeline Safety relies on the company's compliancy and documentation of legally required pipeline testing, which the agency then reviews.

"We aren't going to have somebody out there every time they pressure test a segment, overseeing what they're doing. We don't have the personnel," said Mataich. "We'd need thousands of people, and we don't have that."

Mataich defended the nation's safety record, providing insight into specific regulations required of inspectors, and the steps Kinder Morgan would be required to complete before the pipeline could go full-service.

"We transport just a huge quantity of energy through thousands and thousands of miles of pipeline every day, and it's very safe," said Mataich.

However, after giving a synopsis of the 28 significant incidences involving gas distribution, gas transmission and hazardous liquids that occurred in Kentucky between 2003-2013, Mataich said the transportation of highly volatile liquids, which would include NGLs, does come with some risk.

"If one of these pipelines does leak or does rupture and bust open, those liquids would immediately vaporize, so you would have this vapor cloud that is flammable and is very dangerous actually," said Mataich.

McCreery said after the forum that Kinder Morgan spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year on its 80,000 miles of nationwide pipeline to ensure proper maintenance and safety.

According to Mataich, the most common cause for significant accidents on gas transmission lines is material failure usually related to the steel itself, which would include corrosion and the failure of a weld.

"Some of these old pipelines may have something that might be viewed as a defect in them that took 50 years to really show up in an accident or have some sort of cracking mechanism," said Mataich. "That's pretty much what we see throughout the country. Overall, we have a good safety record, but when we do have a bad accident, they can be bad. I won't tell you that they're not. They certainly are of concern."

The age of the pipeline, which was built in the late 1940s — Mataich said he believes construction actually started in 1944 — prompted a number of questions from audience members.

The proposal calls for the reversal of the flow of gas from its current northeasterly flow of natural gas toward end-users to the Utica Marcellus Texas Pipeline plan to transport NGLs in a southwesterly direction to the coast. It would entail some structural changes to the system.

According to Fitzgerald, it is unclear what the abandonment of the pipeline and the reversal of flow could mean to the integrity of the pipe or the environment. He said he has suggested in other instances that an environmental impact statement be conducted to "look at the impact of reversing the flow, and changing the pressure gradients, changing the possibility of pressure spikes and materially changing the ecological risk associated with it."

Fitzgerald said the age of the pipeline should be carefully considered, offering an anecdote to highlight his point.

"I asked Joe (Mataich) whether this pipeline was a low-frequency electric resistance weld because that era of pipeline has some significant issues that are now being looked at by PHMSA (the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration)," said Fitzgerald, adding that there is a tendency of the low-frequency electric resistance pipelines to crack along the longitudinal welds of the pipe.

"There is PHMSA guidance that says, in some cases, you really shouldn't repurpose low-frequency electric weld pipes," said Fitzgerald. "And Joe's response was, this pipeline, as he understands it, pre-dates that.

"The reality is this is a very old piece of pipeline and you're changing a lot of the operating parameters, and so it really bears a particular degree of scrutiny," said Fitzgerald.

Fielding a question about the risk of building a portion of the pipeline under Herrington Lake, McCreery said the company will not complete the plan without thorough research.

"We're very well-schooled in the horizontal directional drill which is obviously going underneath," said McCreery, citing a project the company completed under the Mississippi River. "We would have to do an extensive study of the geological formations through there to figure out if it's constructible at all."

McCreery reminded the audience that there are several criteria that must be met before the multi-billion dollar project can move forward, including a customer commitment for the NGLs they propose to transport, as well as state and federal approval.

"Can we go through the rigorous regulatory processes, whether it be at the commonwealth level or whether it be at the federal level?" said McCreary. "These are the things that we have to weigh."

McCreery said the company, which "operates like a giant toll road and receives a fee for transporting, storing and handling energy products," according to its fact sheet, currently has no customer that wants to transport NGLs through the pipeline, nor has the company initiated a federal approval process. However, some sources have indicated the company plans on filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in February.

"Kinder Morgan is a customer-driven company, and we're not of the philosophy of 'build it — or repurpose it — and they will come,'" said McCreery. "We are doing our due diligence, and as I speak to you tonight, we do not have a customer. I hope that we do, to be honest, and I hope to come back to you in the near future to talk about this being a full-on project, but that's not the case this evening."

McCreery said if, and when, the project is given the full green light, the company will work with cities and counties in Kentucky with "transparency" and "no secrets."

The proposed pipeline repurposing plan to carry NGLs, which began as a joint venture between Kinder Morgan and MarkWest, is now exclusively a Kinder Morgan project, according to Melissa Ruiz, manager of corporate communications for Kinder Morgan.

McCreery said once the company has a customer commitment and the project is a go, the pipeline could be in full service by late 2017 or early 2018.

The forum moderators, Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney and Danville Mayor Mike Perros, stressed to the audience that there is little that can be done about the pipeline on a city, county or state level. However, Fitzgerald suggested that there may, in fact, be some things individuals and local government might be able to do to oppose the pipeline should they choose to do so. This will be the subject of an article Sunday in The Advocate-Messenger.