Kansas’ Natural Gas Transmission Lines Are Aging

September 15, 2010

Kansas’ aging natural gas transmission pipelines have killed one person, injured five and caused more than $15 million in damage since 2002.

Gas companies and their contractors suffered four of those injuries and all but $744,000 of damages.

The lone death happened in 2006 when an excavation company worker struck a 20-inch transmission line along a gas-gathering route near Mound Valley.

A review of recent data shows Kansas hasn’t seen a catastrophic gasline explosion like the one that ruptured and set flames shooting through a San Bruno, Calif. neighborhood, killing least four people.

But Kansas and other states across the nation have miles of aging pipe.

“Kansas faces the same problem that you see in California,” said Leo Haynos, chief pipeline inspector of the Kansas Corporation Commission. “There’s aging infrastructure.”

Between 2002 and 2009, Kansas logged 35 pipeline problems that caused at least $50,000 in damage or led to an injury or death.

About a third of the pipes involved were more than 50 years old.

Gas companies operating in Kansas must have plans in place to replace aging pipes, and they have to follow through on those plans.

But the state can’t force them to replace pipes, except for street-to-home pipes in areas where 25 percent of the lines have leaked because of corrosion.

Haynos said federal authorities oversee interstate gas pipelines and state inspectors monitor intrastate lines.

A federal database shows only three incidents on intrastate lines, and Haynos said one may be a data error.

Meanwhile, car wrecks, digging and a tornado have taken their toll on gas distribution lines — which are smaller than transmission lines — in Kansas. Those incidents included one death, seven injuries and about $3.4 million in damage.

Corrosion was cited in only one case — an explosion in the Oaklawn neighborhood in Wichita in 2004 that injured two people and caused $47,000 in damage after a woman lit a cigarette, igniting a leak.

That pipe had been installed in 1952.

Haynos said state inspectors make sure gas companies inspect their pipelines and use the best tactics and equipment possible. He said older pipes may not necessarily be bad, so knowing which ones to replace is difficult.

“It’s really hard to get a good idea of what that is because it’s all buried,” he said.

The state rarely issues fines because gas companies usually follow through when the state issues notices of violations, Haynos said.

For example, in 2006 the state fined the city of Lyons $100,000 in an attempt to force it to upgrade its system.

The city invested about $5 million and the state agreed to reduce the fine to $5,000, Haynos said.

From 2002 to 2006, the state logged 746 compliance cases. It assessed fines in five of them.

Of the $109,500 in fines it assessed, the state collected $5,500.

“We have some good operators in Kansas that are cooperating,” Haynos said. “We’re all on the same page on what we need to do.”

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