Commissioners Question Gas Pipeline Replacement

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A disagreement about who should take on the financial burden of replacing miles of dilapidated Kansas gas pipeline is dividing three commissioners no the state’s utility regulatory agency.

Shari Feist-Albrecht, Pat Apple and Jay Emler discussed at a Kansas Corporation Commission meeting last week their stances on the investigation they opened in March 2015, the Topeka Capital-Journal (http://bit.ly/2oyGwX6 ) reported.

The investigation is meant to try and accelerate the replacement of obsolete materials in the state’s natural gas pipeline, which could soon become a public safety risk. Atmos Energy, which serves 107 Kansas communities, testified that it would take the company 187 years to get all the obsolete materials out of the ground at its current rate of replacement. Another commission testimony showed about 23 percent of the Kansas pipeline needs replacing.

Feist-Albrecht wanted to move ahead with a proposal that sets up a five-year pilot program addressing the issue. But Emler and Apple disagreed with the draft.

“My concern is twofold. One is public safety. And there appears to be one company that doesn’t appear to be all that concerned with public safety,” Emler said. “One hundred eighty-seven years means there wasn’t very good planning … I am reluctant to reward a company that doesn’t plan because that’s what this is. This is rewarding their management team for not doing their job and taking it out on the ratepayers.”

Atmos spokesman Jim Bartling said the deliberation between the commissioners was not what the company expected.

“We’ve been disappointed multiple times with this,” he said. “But being the eternal optimists that we are, we still think that we can make something work.”

Bartling stood by his company’s testimony and that of others participating in the investigation that Kansas pipelines are safe.

“Every year, we do leak locating surveys,” he said. “We have constant people that patrol our lines to make sure we don’t have a leak on it. We like to say that safety is our No. 1 priority.”

David Nickel, CURB consumer counsel, said the agency’s expert witness also testified the deteriorating pipes don’t raise immediate safety concerns.

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