The proposed conversion of a natural gas pipeline that runs through Kentucky has cleared a key hurdle, but people concerned about potential environmental problems continue to oppose the project.
In a report issued this week, staffers at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recommended the agency rule that the project would not have a significant environmental impact.
If the commission agrees, it could allow the project to go forward without a more detailed, time-consuming environmental impact study.
The pipeline, called the Tennessee Gas Pipeline, runs 964 miles from Louisiana to northeast Ohio. It passes through 18 Kentucky counties on the way, a total of 256 miles from Simpson County to Greenup County.
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The parent company of the line, Kinder Morgan, wants to sell it to an affiliate that would convert it from carrying natural gas to natural gas liquids.
Those liquids — which can be produced during the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — are used in agriculture, petrochemicals and plastics. Northeast Ohio has been the site of a boom in fracking to produce natural gas.
Kinder Morgan has said its proposal “represents an efficient use of existing infrastructure” because it would not require construction of a new pipeline.
The project would require building some short sections of new line and other upgrades.
The line at issue dates to the mid-1940s.
Opponents of the project have expressed concerns that include the potential for explosions and breaks that would contaminate water and soil.
“They’re extremely powerful pollutants,” Jim Scheff, who is part of a group called Frack Free Foothills, said of natural gas liquids.
The pipeline crosses over Herrington Lake, the primary source of drinking water for Danville and other communities.
Kinder Morgan proposes drilling a new pipeline under the lake. The Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership went on record in July opposing the proposal.
Staffers at the federal energy commission did an environmental review of the proposal, which is less detailed than a full environmental impact statement.
The staff concluded that the conversion and operation of the pipeline would not have significant impacts on the environment because construction and other activities would affect only about 532 acres, spread out over multiple states, and most of the activity would occur within existing rights of way.
In addition, the pipeline company would use measures aimed at limiting the environmental impact, the FERC staff said.
The report said some opponents wanted the commission to deny the project because it would cause more natural-gas production, and as a result more fracking.
However, the report said FERC does not regulate gas production, and has said in other cases that environmental impacts from production are generally not caused by pipelines, nor are they a forseeable consequence of the agency approving a pipeline.
As a result, the study did not consider whether the project would cause more natural-gas production. Opponents think that should be part of the analysis, however, and plan to push the commission to do a detailed environmental impact study.
The next step is taking public comments on the finding, which are due by Dec. 2.
How to comment
To file comments, go to www.ferc.gov and look for the Documents and Filings link. The number on the case, which is needed to submit comments, is CP15-88-000.
People can also call 202-502-8258 for help or send comments by letter to:
Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street NE, Room 1A
Washington, DC 20426