Pipe Dream or Nightmare? Kentucky Residents Express Concerns over Gas Line Conversion Plans

By: Logan Mayfield, Staff Member

The Tennessee Gas Pipeline has transported natural gas throughout eighteen Kentucky counties over the past seventy years.[i]  Recently, Kinder-Morgan Energy Partners submitted a proposal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to repurpose the pipeline and enable it to carry natural gas liquids.[ii] While it is uncertain if the proposal will even be approved, much debate exists regarding the environmental impact if the gas line is converted.  

In the event of a leak, both natural gas and liquid gas can create risks of explosions.[iii] When liquid gas escapes into the atmosphere, however, only eighty percent of it will dissipate.[iv] The residual amount will settle into the ground and bring about an additional hazard: water contamination.[v] This has been the main concern of Kentucky residents living near the Tennessee Gas Pipeline. For example, the gas line in Marion County is located within a mile of the Rolling Fork River and the county’s water treatment facility.[vi] In the event of a gas liquid leak near this area, the risk of widespread water pollution is high.[vii]

The process of repurposing would involve changing the weight, directional flow, and pressure of the current pipes.[viii] Apprehensions regarding the conversion are further escalated due to the age of the existing pipeline. Because of extensive use throughout the years, some believe the pipeline is corroded in areas and, thus, will not be able to withstand an increased pressure change.[ix] Moreover, when the pipeline was originally built, the standards were very different than the most recent ones.[x] The repurposing process itself, therefore, could ultimately increase the risk of a leak or explosion.

It is important that the communities impacted by the conversion of the pipeline continue to express their concerns over this proposal. When making an approval determination, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission does not typically use safety or health factors to guide its decision; instead, the Commission simply looks at whether or not service will continue to be provided to existing customers.[xi] With persistent public outcry, the Commission will be forced to carefully evaluate repurposing the pipeline, or, at a minimum, assure that certain precautions are taken.

[i] Erica Peterson, Proposed Conversion of Gas Pipeline to Carry Natural Gas Liquids Through Kentucky Raises Questions, Concerns, WFPL (Jan. 26, 2015), http://wfpl.org/proposed-conversion-of-gas-pipeline-to-carry-natural-gas-liquids-through-kentucky-raises-questions-concerns/.

[ii] Pam Wright, Trouble down the pipeline? Danville, Boyle County gear up for debate over natural gas liquids, Central Kentucky News, http://m.centralkynews.com/amnews/news/local/boyle/trouble-down-the-pipeline-danville-boyle-county-gear-up-for/article_ce4f9f72-8393-11e4-b4d6-7bb33a22413f.html?mode=jqm.

[iii] Peterson, supra note 1.

[iv] Greg Kocher, Pipeline would carry natural gas liquids through 18 Kentucky counties under controversial plan, Lexington Herald-Leader (March 22, 2015), http://www.kentucky.com/2015/03/22/3762271_pipeline-would-carry-natural-gas.html?rh=1.

[v] Id.

[vi] Peterson, supra note 1.

[vii] Id.

[viii] Id.

[ix] Associated Press, Residents on path of Kinder Morgan pipeline from Ohio to Gulf concerned about use, Fuel Fix (Dec. 27, 2014), http://fuelfix.com/blog/2014/12/27/residents-on-path-of-kinder-morgan-pipeline-from-ohio-to-gulf-concerned-about-use/.

[x] Kocher, supra note 4.

[xi] Id.