Farmers take concerns over natural gas liquids pipeline to Frank - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Farmers take concerns over natural gas liquids pipeline to Frankfort

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – Gene Lanham remembers the first pipeline built near his Marion County, Ky. farm in the early 1940s. It carried natural gas to meet demand in the northeast, and Lanham said most farmers had a “patriotic mentality” to grant easements to aid the U.S. during World War II.

Other pipelines followed, including five that at one time cut through Lanham’s property.

One of them – now more than 70 years old – would be emptied of natural gas and begin carrying natural gas liquids under a proposal by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. Kentucky would be along a route from Ohio to the Gulf Coast, where the byproducts of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” would be refined.

The plan has met with resistance from some local governments, environmentalists and citizens, who have questioned the “repurposed” pipeline’s benefits for the state and the risk of shipping potentially corrosive chemicals in an aging line.

On Wednesday, Lanham took his concerns to the General Assembly’s interim joint committee on agriculture. He told lawmakers that a severe pipeline leak or explosion could affect land owners whose properties are as much as a mile away.

“If we could head off one mistake, one bad mistake, then it would be well worth our time and effort here,” Lanham said.  

He also told the committee of a dispute with pipeline representatives several years ago. Lanham said he allowed crews access to his land to make a pipeline repair, but the trucks carrying pipe got stuck on a steep hill and left ruts.

The ruts eventually washed out, and “I could never get them back in there to do any repair,” Lanham said.

As the two sides tried to resolve the matter, Lanham said a pipeline representative sat at his kitchen table one morning. “One of their … spokesmen said that, ‘We’re one of the largest companies in the world. We have the highest-paid attorneys in the world,’ that that’s all that they do is deal in situations like this. And said, ‘We’ll see you in court,’” Lanham told the committee.

“I am still fighting the scars that that incident left,” he said.

No action was taken at the meeting. Rep. Terry Mills, D-Lebanon, invited Lanham and another area farmer, Joe Livers, to present a different perspective on the pipeline proposal.

Mills said he wants Tennessee Gas Pipeline, an affiliate of Houston-based energy giant Kinder Morgan, to treat farmers fairly and complete its project safely.

“I’m not here to judge at this point whether it’s a good thing or whether it’s a bad thing,” Mills said. “What I do feel an obligation to do is share with you some of the concerns that I am hearing about this project.”

Mills said three counties – Marion, Boyle and Barren -- have passed resolutions opposing the pipeline, as has Danville. The pipe would pass under Herrington Lake, which supplies water to the Danville area.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission hasn’t yet ruled on Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s request to abandon its existing line so it can add the natural gas liquids and reverse the flow to the southwest.

The commission’s approval is the main step needed for the project to advance.

Kinder Morgan officials have said the line can be safely transitioned to carry natural gas liquids and will upgrade parts of the pipe to meet modern standards if needed.

Mills said he invited a Kinder Morgan representative to the meeting but “he called me yesterday and said he couldn’t be here.”

The project is in "open season," which means officials still are gauging demand and interest from potential buyers.

"We did have representatives there in attendance to listen to the concerns that were addressed, but we did not present since we are still in the open season process," Kinder Morgan spokeswoman Melissa Ruiz said.

"We will continue to work with individual discussions with landowners and impacted communities with the project as it develops,” Ruiz said.

Livers, who also farms in Marion County, told committee members he has concerns about the age of the line and pipes sitting on rocks beneath the ground. He said he believes “it’s just a matter of time that there’s going to be a blowout.”

In recent years, several high-profile ruptures of pipelines carrying natural gas liquids have illustrated the potential for slow, undetectable leaks. In Colorado, for instance, a natural gas liquids spill from a pipeline in 2013 occurred for two weeks before the line’s operator realized the scope of the leak. By that time, more than 7,500 gallons had seeped into the ground.

“When they re-purpose this, we’re doing something completely different with a lot of different consequences,” Livers said. “There’s a tremendous number of hazards, I think, associated with it that this body and all governing bodies need to take a hard look at.”

Mills co-sponsored a bill during the 2015 General Assembly that would have given the Public Service Commission more oversight over pipeline inspections on lines like the retrofitted Tennessee Gas Pipeline pipe.

Another co-sponsor, Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, said in July that he plans to file the measure in next year’s General Assembly.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said land owners’ rights need to be considered as part of the pipeline project. But he said he generally supports such lines.

“These materials, these liquids, are going to have to get from Point A to Point B somehow,” said Thayer, a member of the interim agriculture committee. “They’re either going to go on the back of a truck, on the back of a train rail car or underground as part of a pipeline.”

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