Plans to radically repurpose a 70-year-old pipeline that runs through Kentucky and four other states — and that would imperil Danville’s water supply and Mammoth Cave National Park — should not advance without a full environmental impact study.
A recent questionable recommendation that the project does not merit a full review appears to stem from an illogical technicality. The staff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission based this recommendation on just one phase of the plan, but disregarded the gist of the plan, which is the part that raises serious concerns about public safety and the environment.
Energy giant Kinder Morgan is seeking FERC’s approval to abandon a Tennessee Gas pipeline that has long carried natural gas north from the gulf. The proposal is to then convert the aged pipeline to move heavier, more pressurized and highly volatile fracking byproducts southward from drilling operations in Ohio to Texas.
The staff report to the federal commission maintains that because abandoning the pipeline would not “cause” the conversion there is no need for FERC to undertake a more rigorous study of the environmental impacts. The project is designed to eventually deliver up to 450,000 barrels a day of natural gas liquids, such as butane, propane and ethane for use in manufacturing chemicals, to Texas.
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The staff also explained that if the commission grants abandonment of the pipeline, its subesequent conversion to carry drilling byproducts would not fall under FERC’s jurisdiction. The FERC staff further passes the buck by saying that “the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state agencies would be responsible for reviewing environmental impacts of the conversion.”
This bureaucratic hairsplitting is irresponsible. Kinder Morgan would not be asking to “abandon” the pipeline if it did not plan to quickly convert it to a new and riskier use. The two phases make up one piece, and the whole plan should be considered in a detailed environmental impact statement.
The pipeline conversion proposal is just the sort of action the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 said should be subject to rigorous review because the potential impacts are significant. The pipeline runs through towns and neighborhoods, near schools and college campuses, in 18 Kentucky counties, from Simpson to Greenup.
The National Park Service has expressed concerns about pipeline spills affecting Mammoth Cave, the world’s longest cave system, and the surrounding karst topography and groundwater.
The pipeline spans Harrington Lake, which is the primary source of drinking water for Danville and other communities. The company wants to rebuild the pipeline under the lake.
The Kentucky Environmental Foundation contends that separating the project into two parts is “an intentional effort” by Kinder Morgan to “avoid a full and careful” review of its intentions.
In addition to the Berea-based foundation, fiscal courts in Garrard and Clark counties, the Danville-Boyle Economic Development Partnership and the Bluegrass Area Development District have requested a full environmental impact statement.
We join them in that reasonable and responsible demand.
FERC will accept comments on the need for an environmental impact study until Dec. 2. Go to www.ferc.gov and look for the Documents and Filings link, case number CP15-88-000. Or 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