Page 3


STOP THE CARTER AVENU PIPELINE !! “The gas companies do as they please without consequence. The Railroad Commission has no teeth.” Local activist Steve Doeung at his Carter Avenue home PHOTO BY JEN REEL VIEW an interactive map of pipeline incidents in Texas at WATCH a video about the Barnett Shale pipeline saga at JAY MARCOM CAN SHOW YOU just how easy it is to hit a pipelineand he can also testify how hard it is to know where they’re located with any certainty. A salty rancher, Marcom owns 1,600 acres an hour-and-a-half west of the sprawling Metroplex. Eighteen months ago, he nicked an 8-inch pipeline with a backhoe while digging a new culvert. The line was buried only about an inch; though it was relatively small in circumference, it carried about 1 million cubic feet of gas per day. “I could have been a crispy critter,” Marcom laughs, pointing to where he nicked the line. As required by law, Marcom had duly informed the “Call Before You Dig” hotline before he dug, and three pipeline companies had come out to mark their lines. Two of them had lines nowhere near the site where Marcom wanted to dig. The third, Ranger Gas, marked a line about 500 feet from the spot. To do so, the company men resorted to the ancient technique of “witching,” using two pieces of metal. “When the metal crossed, they said, ‘That’s where it is,’ ” Marcom says. They were wrong. After his near-miss, Marcom hired a surveyor to plot the pipeline’s route, trying to make sure he wouldn’t risk being blown up. The surveyor studied records from the Railroad Commission, the county and the company. None of them matched. “They basically forgot where it was,” Marcom says. “Never knew where it was. It was off the books.” Railroad Commission records show that mismarked lines are hardly unusual. Filings by pipeline operators frequently flag significant discrepancies in the locations and mileage of pipeline systems. For example, a May 2009 sheet lists 23 mapping errors in Barnett Shale pipelines acquired by Cowtown Pipeline L.P. from Crosstex Energy Services with notations such as “There [sic] pipe is not connected, and in wrong spot according to CAD drawings.” Deaver, the pipeline expert, says that where many gathering lines are concerned, “they’re out there like the wild, wild West, unregulated,” he said. The Railroad Commission seems to have an official tolerance for errors. In October, Brett Shipp of WFAA-TV in Dallas reported on an internal commission rating system for maps submitted by pipeline operators. “According to the Railroad Commission’s own guidelines, the maps are considered ‘excellent’ if they are within 50 feet of being accurate,” Shipp reported. “They are rated ‘good’ if they are within 301 to 500 feet of being accurate.” That means the Ranger Gas marking on Marcom’s property, 500 feet from where he dug his culvert, would get a “good” rating from the state. Deaver says that’s “truly flabbergasting.” He points out that periodic inspections of pipelines for leaks are often done by airplane. “You cannot do a [leak] patrol … if you don’t know where your pipeline is.” Although Railroad Commission spokeswoman Ramona Nye refused to grant an interview to the Observer, she wrote in an email that the agency’s “maps are not intended nor should they be used as a resource to find a pipeline before digging as the law requires a call to 8-1-1 to notify the One Call System of excavation plans.” In the last decade, safety inspections of pipelines have decreased in Texas. In 2001, there were 2,639 inspections; in 2009 there were 2,171a decrease of more than 17 percent even as more pipe went in the ground. Texas spends less on pipeline safety per mile than Oklahoma and Louisiana, also major gas-producing states. New Mexico spent more than double in 2008 on pipeline safety, according to Railroad Commission data. The commission has been reluctant to fine companies for safety violations. In 2008, for example, state inspectors identified more than 2,400 pipeline safety violations but only assessed $43,000 in finesabout $18 per violation. IN 2008 THE RAILROAD COMMISSION FINED PIPELINE COMPANIES JUST $18 ON AVERAGE, PER SAFETY VIOLATION. j THE TEXAS OBSERVER WWW.TEXASOBSERVER.ORG