In January of 2001, natural gas escaped from an underground storage cavern and exploded in Hutchinson, claiming two lives.
This week, U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) announced the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the bipartisan, Pipeline Safety Act of 2016, H.R. 5050, to improve the safety and regulation of underground natural gas storage facilities. The bill passed by unanimous consent.
It’s about time. The federal government doesn’t regulate underground natural gas storage facilities, and the courts will not allow states to monitor their own storage fields if the gas in them is in interstate transportation.
In Kansas, there are 11 interstate underground storage sites containing over 270 billion cubic feet of gas. There are eight more than do business only in the state, and these are inspected by the Kansas Corporation Commission. A Colorado corporation sued and won when the KCC claimed the right to inspect its underground storage facility in Morton County.
Roberts is no fan of government overregulation. This week he also criticized the Environmental Protection Agency for using federal funds to “attack agriculture” and the Internal Revenue Service for proposing “an unnecessary and burdensome rule that threatened the security of charitable donors’ private information.”
But giving the gas industry a pass to self-inspect has claimed lives, even before Hutchinson. A propane explosion killed two people in Brenham, Texas, in 1992, which prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to consider federal standards for underground storage. But DOT decided not to act.
Roberts said language in the 2016 bill addresses “a dangerous lapse in the oversight of interstate underground natural gas storage facilities. ... With this action, we are one step closer to ensuring proper oversight to prevent another dangerous explosion.”
One step closer is good. It shouldn’t take another 15 years to complete the journey.