Politics & Government

November 21, 2013

House OKs bill accelerating permits for gas pipelines

A bill by a Wichita lawmaker to speed permitting of new natural gas pipelines cleared the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday and is on its way to the Senate.

A bill by a Wichita lawmaker to speed permitting of new natural gas pipelines cleared the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday and is on its way to the Senate.

House Resolution 1900, by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, passed on a vote of 252-165.

The measure sets a timeline for government agencies to complete safety and environmental reviews of proposed natural gas pipelines.

The timeline would vary depending on the size and complexity of the project. Most permits would need to be granted or denied in about two years, Pompeo said.

The change in permitting is needed to facilitate building of pipelines to open up gas fields that new extraction technologies have made more feasible for production in recent years, he said.

“You’ve got enormous natural gas finds, some of them in the 4th District of Kansas, some of them out in Harper and Barber and Comanche counties, other parts of the state of Kansas,” Pompeo said. “We have to get that product from where it is today to end users, industrial folks, commercial users, residential customers.

“We’ve got a lot of folks who want to go out and help build the infrastructure to do that and they’re finding out the government is not sufficiently responsive.”

Under HB 1900, if regulatory agencies don’t complete their review on time and give a yes or no answer, the project would automatically be approved, Pompeo said.

The Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management are among the agencies that would be affected.

“My legislation doesn’t change a thing about whether they need to approve it or need to deny the permit, it simply says you’d have to do your job,” Pompeo said.

He also said that as his bill is considered by the Senate, it could be a potential vehicle for moving ahead with another Kansas natural gas priority, safety inspection of underground storage fields.

Storage fields holding billions of cubic feet of gas have gone uninspected since 2009, when a federal court overturned state safety laws, ruling that gas in interstate transport is exclusively a federal responsibility.

The state is prohibited from inspecting underground storage and the Department of Transportation, the nation’s primary agency for pipeline safety, has opted not to.

The state laws were passed after leaky underground storage caused a deadly gas explosion in Hutchinson in 2001.

Gas from a storage field migrated seven miles underground, came to the surface through abandoned wells and exploded in the city, killing two people in their mobile home and destroying a block of downtown businesses.

Kansas’ two senators, Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, both Republicans, have introduced legislation to allow the state to resume the inspections, and Pompeo said he’d welcome the Senate amending that to his bill.

“You could imagine other things related to energy getting from underground to end consumer that could be part of this,” he said. “I’d be thrilled to do that.”

Pompeo also said he’s reaching out to Democratic Senate leadership for support on HR 1900 and hopes to reach accord on other issues involving gas transportation.

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