Federal authorities ordered the operators of a gasoline pipeline that feeds the Valley to better ensure against breaks or face civil penalties of as much as $100,000 per day.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued its order Thursday against Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, saying the company must address a recent increase in incidents along its 3,900-mile Pacific operations unit in six states, including Arizona.
Since Jan. 1, 2003, the agency said Kinder Morgan experienced at least 44 accidents with 14 resulting in the release of more than five barrels of refined petroleum products, some in or near environmentally sensitive areas or major transportation corridors.
"Forty-four instances in two years is too many," said James Wiggins, safety administration spokesman. "This is a record number." Wiggins says the government wants Kinder Morgan to better look at its system and tell the agency what it plans to do to ensure pipeline safety. "We’ve got some concern they are not using the best available technology," he said. "The corrective action order is not like a ticket, although if they don’t do what we ask, we can start imposing some penalties."
The order requires Kinder Morgan to assess its pipelines using a third-party independent person who is a recognized expert in the field. A report is due in 120 days.
Kinder Morgan spokesman Larry Pierce said there are some elements of the order the company may appeal.
"But we’ve been working with these folks for months now on these issues and will continue to cooperatively work with them to resolve the matters that they’ve identified," he said.
For now, the company does not expect the order to result in supply issues in the Valley, Pierce said. In July, the Transportation department announced enforcement actions against Kinder Morgan and another company for safety violations. They included a notice of probable violation issued to Kinder Morgan proposing $325,000 in combined civil penalties, following inspections of the company’s entire system.
The proposed penalty came after metallurgical analysis of failed pipe material concluded stress corrosion cracking was the cause of a July 30, 2003 pipeline break in Tucson, The break prompted gas lines and skyrocketing prices in the Valley.
The company is rebuilding the line, which runs from El Paso, Texas, through Tucson to Phoenix. Kinder Morgan’s Pacific operations are made up of pipelines and terminals in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and West Texas.
The company said this week’s order focused primarily on eight pipeline incidents, seven of which occurred in California. "PHMSA attributed five of the eight incidents to outside force damage, such as third-party damage caused by an excavator or damage caused during construction of the pipeline," Kinder Morgan said in a statement.
The company said it has already undertaken initiatives that address a number of the corrective actions detailed by the safety administration.