Legislation would protect Kansans from natural gas storage leaks

Legislation would protect Kansans from natural gas storage leaks

Bill would let state step in when federal government fails to monitor natural gas storage sites

U.S. Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran have introduced legislation to protect Kansans from the threat of dangerous natural gas explosions by allowing states to monitor underground natural gas storage in the absence of federal action.

SPEWING GAS: Natural gas migrated from a storage facility into underground caverns in Hutchinson in January of 2001. A subsequent explosion killed two people. Now Kansas Senators are pushing a law that would let states monitor storage sites when the federal government doesn't.

“It’s been over 10 years since we lost two lives to a gas explosion in Hutchison, and the federal government is still nowhere to be found,” Roberts said. “This threat is real. Our first priority is to protect Kansans from harm. We need strong oversight in the storage of natural gas reserves, and in the absence of federal leadership, the state must be allowed to step up and protect its people. Inaction opens the door for a real tragedy, so we must act and put our faith in our own people on the ground to protect their families, friends and neighbors.”

“This legislation fills a void by allowing states to step in when the federal government fails to monitor natural gas storage sites,” Moran said. “Our country’s citizens should be protected from the threat of explosions, and this common-sense approach puts safety first.”

At issue is a 2009 District Court ruling that determined Kansas, through the Kansas Corporation Commission, could not monitor its own storage fields if the gas in those facilities is in interstate transportation.

In the four years since the ruling, the state has been barred from inspecting storage sites, and the federal government, specifically the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has failed to act.

The legislation will allow states to monitor the wellbores in interstate underground gas storage facilities. A state’s inspection plan may be approved by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation.

“The Kansas Corporation Commission offers our strong support for the amendment sponsored by Sen. Roberts and Sen. Moran. Safety and reliability of our energy assets are critical to our economy and nation. The best and most effective means to ensure compliance with gas wellbore safety regulations on interstate facilities is to have the respective states develop needed safety oversight. This amendment allows states to work with US DOT to establish a functional regulatory system that further protects our citizens and economy. The Kansas Corporation Commission sincerely appreciates the efforts of Senator Roberts and Senator Moran on this important matter,” said Shari Feist Albrecht, Chair of the Kansas Corporation Commission.

In Kansas, there are 11 interstate underground storage sites containing over 270 billion cubic feet of gas.

In January of 2001, a gas leak migrated to underground caverns in and around Hutchinson, Kan. The explosion and fire destroyed two downtown buildings and shattered the windows of several more. Two people were killed in a subsequent explosion.

The Senate Commerce Committee is set to debate the Pipeline Safety Act, the law that authorizes PHMSA’s federal pipeline safety programs, which is set to expire in September. Senator Roberts will work with Senator Moran, a member of the Commerce Committee, to see that the Underground Gas Storage Facility Safety Act is included in the discussions.

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