Eldridge Resident Concerned About Area Pipeline Locations
By Phil Roberts

Eldridge News
9 April 2003

USA, ILL, Eldridge

It was Sunday, Feb. 2, and flames were shooting high into the air in rural Mercer County, Ill. A 24-inch-diameter natural gas pipeline that runs beneath a field between Viola and New Windsor had ruptured, causing an explosion and fire that scared nearby residents, forced evacuation of the 15 or so homes within a 2-mile radius and started grass fires that could not be put out until crews had shut off the gas supply.

Luckily, the rupture in the line, which is owned by ANR Pipeline, a subsidiary of El Paso Corp., did not cause an injuries. But that has not always been the case in pipeline accidents.

On Saturday, Aug. 19, 2000, a 30-inch-diameter natural gas pipeline operated by El Paso near Carlsbad, N.M., ruptured. The resulting explosion and fire killed 12 people who were camping under a bridge that carried the pipeline over the Pecos River.

Two pipelines run east and west in an area south of Eldridge that is destined for development. And some people want those who are building or buying houses or businesses in Eldridge to be aware of the potential danger of locating near a pipeline.

Among those who are concerned is John Higgins Sr., a member of the Eldridge Planning and Zoning Commission. He said one of the two pipelines in Eldridge is a 10-inch gas line that, according to Higgins, was installed more than 30 years ago and can be used for liquid petroleum or gasoline and can be charged to up to 1,740 pounds. It is owned by a company called Kinder Morgan. Higgins said the other line is a 36-inch natural gas line that was installed in 1998 by Northern Border and can be charged to 1,000 pounds.

He was aware of the danger of pipeline explosions, said Higgins, long before the recent blast near Viola in Mercer County. But for him and others, "That really brought the point home."

Higgins said he first started thinking about the safety of Eldridge's pipelines while watching a true story about a runaway train in California on a television program. The train derailed in a town, and the cars destroyed some houses that had been built close to the tracks. Bulldozers were brought in to scrape away debris, Higgins notes. "They were cleaning off top soil, and they ended up hitting a gasoline pipeline." Contractors and others who hit pipelines while digging are, in fact, the largest reason for pipeline ruptures, pipeline officials say. "If it's buried, you forget about it," Higgins reasoned.

But careless people are not the cause of all pipeline accidents. Higgins notes that, if a pipeline with only 3 to 4 feet of topsoil runs across a hilly farm where erosion has removed much of the cover, it would be possible that a farmer plowing could rupture it.

There are other causes of pipeline ruptures, too. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the deadly rupture in New Mexico was caused by a significant reduction in pipe wall thickness and severe internal corrosion due to El Paso Natural Gas Co.'s failure "to prevent, detect or control internal corrosion" in its pipeline.

Also contributing to the accident, said the NTSB, were ineffective federal inspections that failed to identify deficiencies in El Paso's internal corrosion control program. The NTSB also determined that pipeline safety regulations don't provide adequate guidance to pipeline operators or enforcement personnel in mitigating pipeline internal corrosion, and it made numerous recommendations intended to solve that problem. All of that, of course, is too late for the 12 campers who died in Carlsbad. But Higgins is raising some pipeline awareness now in Eldridge in hopes it may prevent someone from building on or near one of these potential bombs.

Higgins raises issue at meeting

Higgins brought the issue up at a recent public meeting having to do with the city's comprehensive plan.

"We're coming up with a future plan for Eldridge," Higgins said. "And that's the time to get pipeline locations on all of the maps." Higgins said that's especially important in areas like the former Muhs property, where contractors will be doing lots of digging.

Higgins also would like to know just what recommendations exist for people who build near pipelines. He said the Office of Pipeline Safety is developing guidelines for pipeline safety, but he's unsure how they'd affect developing cities like Eldridge. A so-called "impact area" for a liquid pipeline, for example, goes out more than 600 feet, said Higgins. "How does that affect us?" he wonders, noting that Lincoln Road is about 900 feet from Kinder Morgan's 10-inch liquid gas pipeline. "We are closer yet to the big one (Northern Border Pipeline Co.'s 36-inch natural gas line)," he said.

Higgins adds that for people like himself, who live on South 11th Avenue, Lincoln Road is the only means of evacuation "other than going out across the fields" in case of a pipeline accident. "All these things have to be thought of," Higgins said.

Gena McCullough, planning director for the Bi-State Regional Commission, is not aware of specific guidelines for pipelines as related to subdivisions. "Beyond the federal regulations on pipeline installation, I am not aware of anything else," she said.

Eldridge economic development director Dick Kvach said even though crops are now planted atop both pipelines that run across the southern half of Eldridge, there is a 100-foot easement that would apply when the land is developed. In other words, there can be no construction within 50 feet of either side of the pipeline.

Is that enough?

"I don't know," Kvach said. "I honestly don't." He noted that a number of pipelines run through Bettendorf and minimum distances for building near pipelines are as much as 100 feet and as little as 25 feet. "One hundred is better," said Kvach. "But is it enough? I don't know."

If regulations are developed calling for more extensive easements for existing pipelines, Kvach wonders who will pay for the additional property. He said it's not the city's responsibility, and pipeline companies won't pay unless forced to do so. "It's a Catch 22," he said.

Bi-State has been contracted by the city of Eldridge to update its comprehensive plan. "We are currently taking public input and preparing alternative land uses for the community based on the (recent) citizen meeting," McCullough said.

U.S. pipelines are common

Pipelines are common in the United States. Pipeline companies report there are more than 1 million miles of natural gas and product pipelines in the country. And Kinder Morgan's Web site notes that pipelines help ensure "a plentiful supply of natural gas to heat homes and businesses and generate electricity; gasoline to operate our cars and trucks; fuel oil to power industry and heat homes; and jet fuel for our nation's commercial and military aircraft." The company's Web site also claims that pipelines are "the most efficient and safest method by which to transport and deliver natural gas and petroleum products, and they are inherently safer than other modes of transportation such as rail, barge and truck. "While the amount of natural gas and petroleum being used in the U.S. continues to increase dramatically, the industry's safety performance in recent years has improved significantly, and serious accidents are rare," the company said.

Rare perhaps, but accidents do happen. Just ask the people of Carlsbad, N.M., and Viola, Ill. Higgins and those who share his concern want to make sure that Eldridge isn't added to that list some day.

Copyright Eldridge News

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