NM PRC Considering Statewide Pipeline Review

To prevent an explosion like the one that killed 12 people who were camping near Carlsbad last August, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission is expected to approve a study to review the condition of all the state's natural gas pipelines, which could be completed before the end of this year.

In a regular commission meeting last week, Chairman Tony Schaefer said he expects the study to be approved within a few weeks, which would put it on a timetable for completion by September. A portion of a natural gas mainline operated by El Paso Natural Gas Corp. exploded last August, killing members of two families who were camping by the Pecos River in a remote area about 30 miles from Carlsbad (see NGI, Sept. 4, 2000).

Schaefer, who was elected chairman in February, said, "things could have been done differently," referring to the explosion. "I recognized then that (it) was an old pipeline." Following the explosion and subsequent investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board discovered corrosion in the 50-year-old line.

The pipeline study would review the condition and age of pipelines, and any safety measures undertaken by companies. It also would include public hearings in Carlsbad and Roswell, along with written comments from companies that operate natural gas pipelines in New Mexico, Schaefer said.

New Mexico's jurisdictional responsibilities also could be included in the hearings, he said. Currently, federal authorities have jurisdiction over interstate pipelines while each state may regulate transportation issues within its borders. Earlier this year, the New Mexico Legislature unanimously approved a bill to give the state more oversight of pipelines. Gov. Gary Johnson is expected to sign it by the April 6 deadline this week. Schaefer said there had been some "discussion" about the state taking over more federal inspection of the interstate lines.

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