Oct. 20–GLASGOW — After facing years of opposition from the affected communities, a project to discontinue use of a 72-year-old, 24-inch natural gas pipeline and convert it into a transmission line for natural gas liquids has been halted.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s parent entity, Kinder Morgan, had asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for permission to discontinue use, or “abandon” 964 miles of natural gas pipeline facilities in six states, including Kentucky, and construct and operate pipeline and compression facilities in Ohio and Kentucky to replace capacity lost to the “abandonment. It wanted a brand new, affiliated company, Utica Marcellus Texas Pipeline LLC, to convert its abandoned portion into a transmission line for natural gas liquids.
Buried more than three dozen paragraphs into a Wednesday afternoon press release regarding its third-quarter results, in which it said the company expects to exceed financial targets for the year, was this paragraph: “KMI has determined that it will not proceed with its previously proposed Utica Marcellus Texas Pipeline (UMTP) natural gas liquids project, instead maintaining that segment of an existing TGP pipeline in natural gas service while developing an attractive project to reverse its flow. TGP is now actively pursuing commercial arrangements for natural gas service from Appalachia to the Gulf of Mexico on that segment of its pipeline.”
The FERC application, submitted Feb. 13, 2015, stated construction activities were anticipated to commence late in the first quarter of 2016 and last approximately two years, wrapping up at the end of 2017.
Nearly 30 miles of this line is in Barren County, from the Allen County line near the southwestern corner, across Barren River, to the northeastern corner past Hiseville and Park, where it continues across the southeastern corner of Hart County and into Green County.
On May 25, 2015, a group of “concerned citizens” organized a meeting that took place in Glasgow Common Council Chambers and drew about 40 people.
Tom FitzGerald, director and attorney for the Kentucky Resources Council, was the event’s guest speaker, and he explained a variety of issues and dangers around the issue.
NGLs include other types of gases and liquids that are extracted from the ground with the methane that is used as natural gas to heat homes; the rest had normally been disposed of, but more recently, companies have found commercial uses for them, FitzGerald said.
“There has never been a repurposing project of this value,” he said, adding that he’s not thrilled about Kentucky counties serving as the Guinea pig for it.
FitzGerald said that where leaking natural gas would either dissipate into the atmosphere or explode, the heavier natural gas liquids would settle in low-lying areas, creating a danger of asphyxiation and seepage into the ground and eventually groundwater.
Barren County Fiscal Court — with a bipartisan vote that was unanimous among the seven of the eight members present that day — approved a resolution at its July 21, 2015, meeting opposing the proposed changes to the 27 miles of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline that runs through the county. Several other governmental entities approved similar measures, and a variety of environmental organizations and other grassroots groups had protested the project.
The resolution said the flow on the repurposed line would be toward the southwest, the opposite of the natural gas flow, and that such a repurposing of a pipeline this large has never been attempted and it has not been determined whether the existing pipeline is capable of carrying the NGLs.
NGLs are 150 times more explosive than natural gas alone, the resolution said.
Approval of the document authorized Barren County Judge-Executive Micheal Hale to sign and forward it to the FERC. It urged the FERC to deny any applications for the repurposing of the line for NGLs.
Hale said at that meeting that Barren County has the most mileage of the natural gas pipeline, which runs through multiple states, of any county in the commonwealth.
“I’ve yet to hear a good thing about it,” Hale said. “This poses a safety concern, to me, for the citizens of this county.”
Hale said the company could flash all the money it wants to, but it couldn’t put a price on a life.
“I personally am totally against it,” Hale said.
District 4 Magistrate Jack London said at that meeting that the pipeline runs through his and his neighbors’ farms.
“This was a line that went in in 1944. I was just a kid, and I remember it very well,” he said. “And I’m not so sure that on Blue Springs Creek that there’s not some lines exposed.”
He said he’s not personally able to walk the line and check it, he said.
“I agree with the judge that this presents a hazard,” London said.
District 3 Magistrate Carl Dickerson asked that day whether the parent company, Kinder Morgan, had made any effort to discuss the project and present its viewpoint with county officials, and Hale said it had not.
“I’m one for business, but if they can’t come to tell us why they need to do this, then I’m like you two, I …,” Dickerson said. “The meeting I attended said there’s a lot of safety concerns with it. I wish they would come, but evidently they don’t feel it’s important enough to show up, so I feel the same way about it you guys do.”
Hale said he believes they were sworn in to “uphold the safety of the citizens of the county, and that’s the first priority,” he said.
On Friday, when the Glasgow Daily Times notified Hale of Kinder Morgan’s announcement, he said, “That’s a good deal! That line wasn’t … set up for liquids,” he said. “My main concern was the safety of the citizens of Barren County. I never had a good feeling about that when they first started talking about it. We got ahead of it and basically said, ‘Hey, we don’t want that in our county, because it’s putting us at risk.”
The judge-executive said he believed it wouldn’t have been a matter of if it leaked, but when, and with its being mostly underground, no one would have been able to see it until it was too late.
Just more than a year ago, the FERC approved the abandonment portion of the proposed plan by Tennessee Gas Pipeline, but the Sept. 29, 2017, FERC order did not authorize what it acknowledged as the most-contested aspect of the proposal — the conversion to NGL use — because it is outside FERC’s jurisdiction.
Abandoning the pipeline, in this case, meant selling it to Utica Marcellus Texas Pipeline LLC — created expressly for the purpose of taking it over and operating the transmission of natural gas liquids, which stirred particular controversy over safety and environmental concerns.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline and UMTP have the same parent company: Kinder Morgan.
NGLs, as the order puts it, “include a range of hydrocarbons heavier than natural gas (methane), including propane, ethane, normal butane, isobutane, pentane and other heavy hydrocarbons. NGLs are produced both from the refining of crude petroleum and from processing natural gas, which emerges from gas wells mixed with NGLs that are extracted in gas processing plants.”
The FERC order stated that commission has no role in the decision of permitting UMTP to convert the pipeline for NGL use.
“The safety of converting [Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s] abandoned pipeline to NGLs service was frequently cited in objections to the proposed project,” a footnote in the order reiterated multiple times elsewhere in it states. “We acknowledge this as a legitimate concern, and the cumulative impacts section of the [FERC Environmental Analysis] considers potential impacts of converting a pipeline from vapor gas to gas liquids service. … However, statutory authority to assess, monitor, and mitigate risks associated with interstate NGLs pipelines rests with PHMSA, not the Commission.”
PHMSA refers to the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Elsewhere in the document, the U.S. “Corps of Engineers and other federal and state agencies” are tagged as having further oversight responsibilities, adding that UMTP would have to comply with the Department of Transportation’s Minimum Federal Safety Standards.
With that said, Tennessee Gas Pipeline was given two years to complete the work it requested, according to the order, but the FERC did place several conditions on the project, including some environmental protection measures to address the findings of nearly 400 pages, including 215 of appendices, of environmental analysis.
An opinionated blog, “Marcellus Drilling News: Helping People & Businesses Profit from Northeast Shale Drilling” that calls itself a “news service dedicated to covering the Marcellus and Utica Shale,” posted an entry Friday about the announcement.
The entry has the image of a “cancelled” stamp with it and has as its headline: “Kinder Morgan cancels UMTP — Utica Marcellus Texas Pipeline.” The writer states: “Once again it seems environmentalists in Kentucky have won — stopping yet another NGL (natural gas liquids) pipeline. On Wednesday Kinder Morgan, one of (perhaps the) largest pipeline companies in North America, announced it is canceling plans to convert part of its Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGP) that currently flows natural gas from the Gulf Coast to the northeast, to reverse the pipeline and flow natural gas liquids (NGLs) from the Marcellus/Utica region to the Gulf Coast. The project, called Utica Marcellus Texas Pipeline (UMTP), would have cost $4 billion. …”
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