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Senate resolution states ‘concerns’ about NGL pipeline proposal

The Kentucky Senate has passed a resolution stating “concerns” about a plan to repurpose a natural gas pipeline that crosses through 18 Kentucky counties, including Boyle.

Senate Resolution 254, sponsored by Sen. Rick Girdler (R-Somerset), was adopted by voice vote on the Senate floor Thursday. It “requests that any future repurposing practices be approached in the most environmentally and socially responsible way.”

Girdler said the bill concerns a proposal from Houston-based energy giant Kinder Morgan to transport natural gas liquids (NGLs) through Tennessee Gas Pipeline No. 1, a 964-mile pipeline stretching from northeast Ohio to the gulf coast.

The Kinder Morgan project is never mentioned by name in the bill because of complications that could have arisen given a current lawsuit over the project in the D.C. Circuit Court, Girdler said, explaining attorneys had advised specific references be removed from an initial draft.

“It can’t be named by name because it’s in a lawsuit,” he said. “I couldn’t insert myself in that lawsuit … the legislative body has to stay out of (judicial matters).”

“Recent regulatory actions by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission may allow for the repurposing and future conversion of an existing natural gas pipeline, extending from Greenup County in the north (of Kentucky) to Simpson County in the south, to transport natural gas liquids through the commonwealth,” the resolution states.

NGLs are “hydrocarbons such as ethane, propane, butane, isobutane, and pentane, which are used primarily as fuel or as feedstock for plastics and chemical manufacturing,” the resolution continues. “… natural gas pipelines differ in their operations from natural gas liquids pipelines, and significant resources and improvements would be required to repurpose a pipeline.”

The resolution then notes that “Kentucky has more inland rivers and streams than any other state” and “some of the state’s complex waterways interact with the world-renowned Mammoth Cave.”

“This esteemed body collectively shares a bond of protection for all the commonwealth’s natural treasures to be enjoyed by citizens and visitors alike,” the resolution continues. “… This honorable body expresses its concerns about the proposed repurposing of an existing natural gas pipeline and expresses its expectations of due diligence by proponents and state and federal regulators should the project come to full realization, and requests that any future repurposing practices be approached in the most environmentally and socially responsible way.”

Girdler said the bill “basically puts them on notice” that “we just want them to make sure they don’t damage our waterways.”

After the resolution was filed but before the Senate voted on it, Girdler said he was visited by representatives for Kinder Morgan.

“They made an appointment with me and I sat down and talked with them. It was a good discussion,” he said. “They were very nice and said they recognized the situation. … They don’t want any issues out of it either because it’s billions of dollars. They assured me there was really nothing going on right now, anyway.”

Kinder Morgan gained federal approval last year to “abandon” Tennessee Gas Pipeline No. 1 for purposes of transporting natural gas, putting the company closer to using the pipeline for NGLs. But implementation of the repurposing has been delayed by Kinder Morgan as it attempts to gauge market interest and find a customer that wants to use the pipeline for NGLs, according to FERC filings made by the company.

Opponents of the proposal warn the existing pipeline was not constructed to safely contain NGLs, which are heavier and more explosive than natural gas; and that a leak could devastate local environments and economies along the pipeline’s route.

Girdler said Boyle County resident Tom Ellis was “instrumental” in drafting the resolution. Ellis asked Girdler and Rep. Daniel Elliott about the Kinder Morgan proposal during a “legislative coffee” event in Danville Feb. 5.

“While I understand the state cannot do anything about the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the devastating effects … if there were a leak, if they got NGLs into the water system, we would have the second dead sea on the planet,” Ellis said during the event. “… Having spent years up there (in Frankfort), I do understand the power of House and Senate resolutions. I would just encourage you to think about a joint sponsorship on Kinder Morgan and the devastating effect that it could have on the environment, on farming, on human life, all of agriculture and economic development.”

“That’s a good idea,” Rep. Daniel Elliott (R-Danville) said. “I think that’s a great suggestion.”

Girdler asked Ellis to come up with the text of what such a resolution might look like.

That’s exactly what Ellis did.

“I was quite pleased when Sen. Girdler turned to me” and asked for me to draft a resolution, Ellis said Friday.

“Now 120 counties will be involved in the discussion,” Ellis said. “… There will be a new awareness of just the critical nature, the disaster that could come if there ever would be a leak”

Ellis is well-versed in the legislative mechanics of Frankfort: He worked on legislative issues in the capital for 26 years, first as a lobbyist for Blue Cross Blue Shield, then in an advisory role to Gov. Brereton Jones, then for Appalachian Regional Healthcare.

He said he has been paying attention to and raising awareness about the Kinder Morgan plan since November 2014, when “the first evidence was coming into the community” about the potential impacts.

Ellis pointed to an experience a friend of his had in western Boyle County as an example of why piping NGLs through a natural-gas pipeline would be so risky: He said his friend came home to find a backhoe and two men on her property; they were replacing a section of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline No. 1 that had collapsed.

“The gentlemen that were there were very open to her in saying that, ‘Ma’am, it must have been a very large rock or section of stone'” that fell on the pipeline and made it collapse, Ellis said.

In reality, Ellis said the nature of the topography in the area and the rockiness of the soil that the pipeline runs through, combined with the heating and cooling of the seasons, makes the pipeline prone to failure; heavier NGLs would only exacerbate the problem.

With the resolution passing the Senate, Ellis said it means awareness of the problem will expand beyond the Kentucky counties directly affected.

“Beyond those 18 counties, we will now have leaders … aware of the consequences if there ever were a spill.”

Ellis is hopeful the Senate resolution can become a joint resolution, passed by the state House of Representatives as well.

Girdler said he worked on developing Ellis’ draft resolution with Rep. Elliott, but that this late in the general session, it doesn’t look like it will make it through the House as well.

“We just ran it through the Senate,” Girdler said. “… It would have taken too much time to do a joint resolution.”