Rep. Mike Pompeo is joining the state’s two senators in calling for a restart of government safety inspections of storage fields that hold billions of cubic feet of potentially explosive natural gas underneath Kansas plains and towns.
The gas fields have gone uninspected since 2009, when a federal court struck down Kansas laws mandating state-run safety inspections.
Sens. Pat Roberts, R-Dodge City, and Jerry Moran, R-Hays, introduced legislation in April to allow the Kansas Corporation Commission, the state’s utility regulation body, to reinstitute the safety inspections. It’s their second try at getting a bill through the divided Congress.
Pompeo, who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he has not yet studied the Roberts-Moran bill, but said he will be.
“I completely agree with Sens. Moran and Roberts that we have to have some group that’s doing those inspections,” Pompeo said.
State inspection laws were passed in the aftermath of a deadly explosion in Hutchinson in 2001.
In that incident, millions of cubic feet of gas escaped from a damaged salt dome, migrated seven miles underground, popped up through abandoned wells and exploded, killing two senior citizens in their mobile home in east Hutchinson and destroying a block of downtown businesses.
The 2009 court decision prohibited the state from inspecting gas storage fields, ruling that infringes on an area of federal jurisdiction. The federal Department of Transportation, the agency responsible for gas pipeline safety nationwide, doesn’t inspect the fields either.
In advisory bulletins on the subject, the DOT encouraged states to take the lead, but the judge in the Kansas case ruled that companies that transport storage gas across state lines are free to ignore state regulations.
Pompeo said he hopes legislation to change that can follow a process he participated in early in his tenure as a congressman to continue the operation of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
PHMSA is the division of the Transportation Department tasked with maintaining the safety of interstate pipelines transporting gas, oil and other dangerous materials.
“One of the things I worked on literally from the second day I was in office was the reauthorization of PHMSA (and) the federal pipeline safety rules,” Pompeo said. “It was a great process, because there had been industrial accidents.”
Acknowledging that no gas transport system can be 100 percent safe, Pompeo said the key to getting a good plan in place was working with all stakeholders, including pipeline companies, safety experts, environmental groups and unions representing the workers who build and run the system.
“It was a complex piece of legislation, but we got to a place where everyone was comfortable that we’ve done everything that we could both with respect to cost and safety and getting that product where it needed to be,” Pompeo said. “I’d love to see us do the same thing on underground storage.
“PHMSA didn’t cover that in any material way, so I’m happy to look at the language that Sen. Roberts and Sen. Moran have suggested and make sure that we’ve got safe underground storage of all our energy, whether that’s oil above the ground or natural gas below it.”