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Other Shale Towns Could Learn From Fort Worth, Resident Says

Some residents of Fort Worth, TX -- which sits atop the Barnett Shale -- would like to see their city and state reconsider policies on siting and regulation of natural gas pipelines. A group of neighborhood associations said Thursday that citizens of other shale gas towns could learn from mistakes made in their city.

Residents of Fort Worth saw the sun rise on the shale gas phenomenon as producers targeted the Barnett Shale play far beneath their neighborhoods. Now -- following years of midstream development, and a deadly pipeline blast in California -- some in the state's fifth largest city are calling for a reset on how pipeline siting decisions are made.

"The city of Fort Worth should take steps to control land use with pipelines in a way that protects future development and avoids redundant infrastructure," said Libby Willis, president of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhood Associations (FWLNA), which just released a report containing 26 recommendations on pipeline siting and safety issues. "As development of shale gas resources increases in other parts of the United States, we believe that these regions should be able to benefit from learning what Fort Worth has done right, not what we have done wrong."

Following a year-long study supported by a nearly $50,000 federal grant, Richard Kuprewicz, president of Accufacts Inc.; and Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, produced a 36-page report on the state of pipelines in Fort Worth. On their minds lately has been the catastrophe in San Bruno, CA, where a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. natural gas pipeline exploded in September (see Daily GPI, Oct. 21; Sept. 13).

"Although the risk of incidents from pipelines is small, it illustrates the risks that exist with natural gas pipelines in urban areas," said Weimer. "Many of the gathering and transmission lines in Fort Worth are permitted to have higher pressures than the San Bruno line and are capable of generating greater potential impact zones upon rupture."

The report's authors assert that unlike the case of electric transmission lines, "there is no governmental analysis or consideration of whether, how or where pipelines will be placed. Instead, location of pipelines is left to the random interests of numerous entities acting in their own interests."

They said pipeline companies effectively have eminent domain granted by the state legislature. However, they also note that lawmakers also have "empowered municipalities to protect the public health and safety through ordinances and zoning regulations, which could indirectly affect where these pipelines are routed."

FWLNA said the state and city should do more to protect public safety, including making sure that whenever it is feasible, new gas pipelines are routed through the least-populated areas. "The goal of these recommendations is not to burden the industry but to prevent failure and to improve public safety," Willis said. "Doing the right thing to reduce damage and improve safety is a fraction of a penny on the dollar of cost and is far less expensive than the cost of a major incident."

In 2009 the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) found that there were 290 incidents of excavation damage to pipelines in Fort Worth, with 78 of those happening after the excavator failed to use the One Call system, according to the report, which calls for the RRC and the city of Fort Worth to make information about pipeline routes easier to access.

Among other recommendations in the report:

The report is available at www.fwlna.org.

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