DANVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A Houston energy company is pushing forward with plans for a hazardous liquids pipeline through Kentucky despite having no customers lined up, an official said Thursday.

Speaking at a public forum in Danville, Kinder Morgan public affairs representative Ryan McCreery said his firm hasn't gotten commitments for the natural gas byproducts to be transported through the state along a route from gas producing fields in the northeast to refineries in Texas.

“I hope that we do, to be honest,” McCreery told a standing-room crowd. “My company hopes that we do. 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.”

But Kinder Morgan still plans to ask the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission next month for approval to “abandon in place” the portion of its Tennessee Gas Pipeline now carrying natural gas from the Gulf Coast to northeast markets to prepare it for handling natural gas liquids, McCreery said.

If all federal approvals are granted, the pipeline could be operational by late 2017 or early 2018 at the earliest, he said.

Kinder Morgan, with partner MarkWest Utica EMG, would repurpose more than 1,000 miles of pipeline that currently carries natural gas. Once the natural gas is removed, the 24- and 26-inch sections of pipeline would ship natural gas liquids -- substances found in natural gas that used to make plastics, automotive fuels and other products.

About 256 miles of pipeline would be converted in Kentucky, according to estimates. That line runs from from Greenup County in the northeast edge of the state to Simpson County in southern Kentucky, passing through Morehead, Winchester, Campbellsville and other cities.

The line also cuts through Boyle County, where Danville officials estimated that 200 people attended Thursday night's meeting. While remaining civil, residents of central Kentucky pressed McCreery and an official with the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration about Kinder Morgan's plans to safely convert the 71-year-old line.

McCreery said he wasn't immediately sure if the company had the original testing and other documents from 1944, when the pipeline went into service. He said the project -- repurposing roughly 1,000 miles of pipeline for natural gas liquids -- is the largest of its kind currently underway.

Joe Mataich, an Atlanta-based PHMSA engineer, said his agency would require Kinder Morgan to comply with federal safety regulations to verify the line's soundness.

Kinder Morgan is one of two operators that have proposed moving natural gas liquids through Kentucky in recent years. The Bluegrass Pipeline would have repurposed some existing line and built new pipe, but Boardwalk Pipeline Partners L.P. of Houston and the Williams Cos. of Tulsa, Okla., scuttled that project last year because of lukewarm demand from customers.

Kinder Morgan's project would be exclusively retrofit existing pipeline segments. But concerns still remain about the environmental toll of having natural gas liquids potentially travel under streams and other bodies of water, such as Lake Herrington, which supplies water to Danville.

Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, cited a recent case in Colorado in which the carcinogen benzene leaked from a pipeline and leached into groundwater.

“You start with the assumption that the company has the same goal,” FitzGerald said at the meeting. “For us, it's you don't want an explosion in your neighborhood. For them, it's ‘We don't want to lose product and have an explosion in your neighborhood.' The goal is not to put this stuff into a leaky pipeline.”

“But the reality is this is a very old piece of pipe and you're changing a lot of the operating parameters – and so it really bears a particular degree of scrutiny, not only for the direct impacts but the indirect impacts,” he said.

Eleanor Craig, a member of the Sisters of Loretto Community in Marion County, said the pipeline runs about 10 miles from her home. She's concerned about a hazardous liquids pipeline cutting through karst geology and whether the line could withstand the force from earthquakes.

“I have also a really strong sort of socio-political concern that I don't think that big companies from someplace else should be able to do things dangerous on our property without more say-so on our part...We have to find ways locally to stand up and direct things that concern our health and well-being,” Craig said in an interview after the meeting.

Kinder Morgan and Tennessee Gas representatives have done some surveying work in central Kentucky but stopped in October. McCreery told residents that surveys would resume if the project gets more “commercial certainty.”

“If this does go, we're committed to 100 percent transparency,” he said. “We have no secrets. We're going to come and we're going to talk to you.”

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