PIPELINE: 100 attend meeting in Marion

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Stephen Lega, Landmark News Service

 About 100 people attended a meeting March 19 at the Marion County Extension Office to discuss natural gas liquids (NGLs).

The Tennessee Gas Pipeline (which is owned by Kinder Morgan) has applied to abandon part of an existing natural gas pipeline with plans to convert it to carry NGLs.

“I am proud to live in a county where we still know the value of land as heritage,” said Susan Classen, a co-member of the Loretto Community and one of the panelists at last week’s meeting.

She added that big companies like Kinder Morgan want individuals to feel they are isolated and powerless.

“The fact that we’re here this evening proves them wrong,” she said.

The section of the pipeline proposed to carry NGLs spans 964 miles and includes 19.7 miles in Marion County. About half of the people who attended Thursday’s meeting indicated that the pipeline crosses their land.

Marion County Judge/Executive David Daugherty organized the meeting and invited a panel to present information about NGLs and the Kinder Morgan project. In addition to Classen, the panel included former county judge John G. Mattingly, attorney Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Council, State Representative Terry Mills and Woodford County resident Bob Pekny.

According to an application filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Kinder Morgan wants to abandon one of the pipelines that has been used to carry natural gas from the south to the northeast of the United States. If that abandonment is approved, Tennessee Gas Pipeline intends to sell the abandoned line to the Utica Marcellus Texas Pipeline. UMTP, which is also owned by Kinder Morgan, intends to repurpose the line to carry NGLs from the northeast to the Gulf Coast.

Mattingly said local discussions about NGLs started a few years ago when the Williams Company announced its intention to acquire property to build the Bluegrass Pipeline.

That project was intended to carry NGLs from parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to the Gulf of Mexico. It included plans to build a new pipeline through Central Kentucky, and near Marion County, although the company did contact local residents (including the Loretto Motherhouse) about possible easements.

The companies involved in the Bluegrass Pipeline have suspended that project. However, that project was in competition with Kinder Morgan’s plan to repurpose a portion of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline, according to Mattingly

“It was always kind of a race,” he said.

One of the key differences between the projects is that the Tennessee Gas Pipeline already has easements and pipes in the ground. Mattingly added that in Marion County most of this pipeline crosses through the watershed that feeds the Rolling Fork River, which is the county’s primary drinking water source.

He added that his concern isn’t only about repurposing a decades old, 24-inch pipeline to carry a heavier product. Mattingly said he also believes fracking, the process of using pressurized liquid to extract natural gas and NGLs from underground shale formations, could follow the path of the pipeline as well.

“We do have more power than we realize if we all do it in a united way and stand together,” Mattingly said.

State Representative Mills said the legislative push last year on NGLs related to eminent domain. Company officials involved with the Bluegrass Pipeline said repeatedly that they would consider pursuing eminent domain if they could not acquire the easements they needed for their project. A bill clarifying Kentucky’s eminent domain law cleared the House of Representatives in 2014, but the Senate took no action because a court case was filed related to that very issue.

In that case, a Franklin Circuit Court ruled that NGLs did not qualify for eminent domain under Kentucky law.

Mills added that earlier this year he held a meeting with other state legislators, administrative officials and even Kinder Morgan representatives. Mills said he left that meeting believing that the Kinder Morgan officials had assured them nothing would happen with its project until 2018. Then he read in the filings with FERC that the company was indicating it could begin construction in the first quarter of 2016.

“That’s one of the reasons we tend to not put all our stock in what the company and the people doing the project tell us,” Mills said.

He added that he’s seen Tennessee Gas Pipeline easement agreements going back as far as 1941, and he believes those agreements should be renegotiated in light of the company’s plan to repurpose a portion of the line.

“You’re right to be concerned about it, and I appreciate you being here,” Mills told the crowd.

Pekny started doing research on NGLs when he learned the Bluegrass Pipeline was looking at a route that would cross the Kentucky River about a half-mile upstream from his home in Woodford County.

“As I learned more and more about pipelines, I got more worried,” Pekny said.

Based on his research, pipeline monitoring systems only find one in 20 leaks. Most are found by human observation, and when companies do flyovers, dead vegetation is something they look for to indicate a possible leak, according to Pekny.

He also did a demonstration using dry ice. A visible cloud could be seen emerging from the container with the dry ice, but the cloud hung close to the ground (rather that rising higher) before dissipating. Pekny said NGLs would act in a similar way, getting into the ground and groundwater.

He also said an online search would show that pipeline leaks are more common than people might expect.

“They are happening all the time, and it’s not just old pipelines,” Pekny said.

He also said an engineer working on the Bluegrass Pipeline said their equipment could find leaks of 1.8 percent of the total flow of NGLs in their pipelines. Pekny used that as a basis to make some calculations about Kinder Morgan’s plans.

If the repurposed line carried 375,000 barrels of NGLs per day, that would be 15.75 million gallons per day or 656,250 gallons per hour, according to Pekny. He added that a 1.8 percent leak would be 11,813 gallons per hour.

Pekny also expressed concerns that NGLs could be more explosive than natural gas. He said NGLs expand 270 times when they vent into the atmosphere.

FitzGerald, an attorney and the director of the Kentucky Resources Council, said the KRC would be filing as an intervener in the project. This would allow the KRC to receive copies of the filings made by Kinder Morgan and other interveners.

FitzGerald noted that Kinder Morgan officials have said they do not yet have a customer to buy the NGLs they are planning to transport from the northeast to the south for processing, although he is skeptical of those statements.

“There’s been a lot of effort and a lot of money put into a project that doesn’t exist,” FitzGerald said.

He encouraged those who attended the meeting to submit public comments to FERC prior to the March 23 deadline. As part of its filing, KRC will be requesting that the full environmental impact study related to Kinder Morgan’s plans and that FERC expand its public comment period.

That said, FitzGerald also told the crowd that FERC was focused primarily on the request to abandon a portion of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline rather than Kinder Morgan’s plan for that line if its request is approved.

“They [FERC] are not concerned about health and safety, frankly,” he said.

He added that NGLs should be a concern throughout Kentucky, and he encouraged people to contact their friends in other legislative districts and to ask those friends to share their concerns with their legislators.

“It needs to be a priority issue,” FitzGerald said.


Q&A session

During a question-and-answer session at the end of the meeting, Frank Lawson said the Tennessee Gas Pipeline runs within 200 feet of his house, and said he has seen people doing work on the easement on his property already.

The pipeline also crosses Joe Livers’ property, and he said he’s also seen people working on his land. He said the workers told him they were fixing a dented pipe.

FitzGerald said pipeline companies are required to do maintenance. He added that if they are doing work related to the proposed repurposing, then the company would be in violation of federal regulations. He said property owners should contact the KRC if they have reason to believe that is happening.

The Kentucky Resources Council can be reached by calling 502-875-2428 or sending an email to FitzKRC@AOL.COM.

Lawson said he grew up in Marion County, but he lived in Houston for 20 years before moving back here a few years ago. He said a natural gas liquids fire at a storage facility in Mont Belvieu (which is where Kinder Morgan is proposing to transport NGLs) created flames more than 1,000 feet high and burned for months.

“It looked like a giant torch out of the sky,” Lawson said.

An NBC News story from Feb. 8, 2011, about that fire indicated the flames were visible seven miles away, and the explosion was heard up to 35 miles away (http://goo.gl/hHccP5).