CAUSE OF MAJOR PIPELINE ACCIDENTS 2000-2009 TEXAS NATIONAL MI CORROSION MATERIAL, WELDING, OR EQUIPMENT FAILURE ALL OTHER CAUSES EXCAVATION DAMAGE INCORRECT OPERATION MI NATURAL FORCE DAMAGE OTHER OUTSIDE FORCE DAMAGE Enterprise filled out in order to get its operating permit lists the pipeline’s wall thickness and pipe grade as “unknown.” The pipeline’s pressure is listed as “to be determined.” That was good enough to get the Railroad Commission’s approval. But that’s just the beginning of this “comedy.” Based on an Observer review, the maps of the pipeline’s route that the company submitted to the Railroad Commission are wrong. They don’t show the line running by Kelleher’s house at all. In November, trying to get to the bottom of that mystery, Kelleher contacted the state’s “Call Before You Dig” systema federally mandated program that is the government’s primary defense against accidents. By law, excavators have to call the system’s 8-1-1 number before digging. Kelleher told the state she planned on deepening her pond. By law, pipeline companies in the area then have to come out and mark their pipes. Four local companies responded, correctly, that they had no pipelines in the immediate vicinity. But Enterprise, which had laid the pipes, did not come out or respond in any way. \(Enterprise “That’s just alarming and it’s probably more commonplace than we hope to know,” says state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat. “If you don’t have inspectors out in the field making sure that things are happening as they should be, who knows what’s happening.” Kelleher has drawn her own conclusions. “The gas companies seem to be allowed the discretion to do as they please without consequence. The Railroad Commission has no teeth into holding them responsible for their actions or lack of actions. “Am I cracking up? It’s just not right. I made repairs to my chicken coop and the city red-tagged me. Different rules apply to the gas company. On more than one occasion city officials and government officials have told me, ‘You don’t generate as much tax revenue as the gas company.”‘ WHILE NORTH TEXANS FRET, these are halcyon days for the natural-gas business. About a decade ago, innovators in the industry pioneered a new drilling technique called hydrofracturingor “fracking”in which water and chemicals are injected deep underground to release gas from tight rock formations. First used in the Barnett Shale, fracking has unlocked trillions of cubic feet of unconventional natural gas, first in North Texas and then in New York, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and West Virginia. It’s spurred a bonanza for producers and been embraced by politicians eager to chart a new direction for the nation’s aimless energy policy. What’s not to love? Gas, after all, burns much more cleanly than oil or coal. Its carbon footprint is much smaller. Gas also comes blessedly free of foreign entanglements. But in the rush to capitalize, some longtime natural-gas insiders say that the once-staid industry has taken a dangerous turn. Bill Fisher, a retired pipeline executive in Forth Worth, is one of them. “This industry has essentially been changed in the last 25 years,” he says. “It no longer has a regulated mentality. It’s a go-go type mentality, a Wall Street mentality. I’m afraid it’s changed to, ‘Let’s do it as fast as we can, as cheap as we can.” Once, before a binge of deregulation in the ’80s and ’90s, companies held onto their pipelines for decades, which created incentives to ensure these valuable assets were built and maintained properly. “You had a tradition in this country of pipelines being operated as utilities,” Fisher says. “In a utility, you get your money back from ratepayers, so safety should be your number-one goal.” Nowadays pipelines are regularly built, sold and resold many times over, “flipped” like overpriced homes during the lustiest days of the housing market. The number of pipeline operators has skyrocketed. Many specialize in gas production, not pipelines, but have created subsidiaries that build and operate pipeline systems. Others are what the big companies call “mom and pop” outfits, lightly capitalized fly-by-nights trying to strike it rich in America’s great gas play. While even critics will concede that pipelines are probably the safest way to transport gas, they question the ability and willingness of the regulators to keep up with the industry. The companies “operate how the regulators make them operate,” says Fort Worth pipeline-safety expert Don Deaver. And that’s problematic, he says, because the Railroad Commission “does more to protect the pipeline companies than the public.” Ten years ago, when the Texas Railroad Commission was under Sunset reviewa once-adecade, top-to-bottom review of state agenciesthe Sunset Advisory Committee recommended that the commission oversee rural gathering lines. But legislators, loath to upturn the industry’s campaign-cash gravy train, ignored that recommendation. The upshot is that many gathering lines never have to be inspected, nor are they required to have integrity management plans, a key tool in preventing disasters. They also don’t have to be injected with an odorant, which helps alert people to gas leaks. Yet many gathering lines are identical in size and pressureand, thus, potential dangerto transmission lines, which are inspected. In the long run, the gathering lines running under the Metroplex might be even more dangerous than their transmission cousins. For one thing, they’re more susceptible to corrosion because the gas they carry is raw, containing corroding substances like water and salt. “They have all kinds of internal corrosion problems,” says Deaver, who worked 33 years for Exxon Mobil and now serves as an expert witness for plaintiffs in pipeline-safety lawsuits. “They’re out there like the wild, wild West, unregulated.” Potential impact radius for two pipelines along Old Denton Road in Fort Worth. COURTESY GOOGLE EARTH NOVEMBER 26, 2010 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
You May Also Like
The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.