State

Kansas-inspired bill seeking to prevent gas explosions passes U.S. Senate

A firefighter walks past a burning fire in downtown Hutchinson, Kan., on Jan. 17, 2001.
A firefighter walks past a burning fire in downtown Hutchinson, Kan., on Jan. 17, 2001. File photo

A bill designed to reduce the risk of deadly disasters like the Hutchinson natural gas explosion of 2001 has passed the U.S. Senate, Sen. Pat Roberts announced Friday.

The bill would allow states, including Kansas, to restore inspection of underground gas storage facilities within their borders.

The mammoth storage caverns have gone uninspected by state or federal regulators since a 2009 court ruling stripped states of authority to regulate gas that is stored for interstate transportation.

As our nation begins to rely more and more on natural gas, we need to ensure there is a proper level of oversight to prevent dangerous explosions and any further loss of life.

Sen. Pat Roberts

Roberts and fellow Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran have been working for about five years to restore the inspections, after being alerted to the issue by Wichita Eagle coverage in 2011.

After efforts to pass stand-alone bills stalled, Moran was able to attach the language to a “must pass” pipeline safety bill as it advanced through the Commerce Committee.

Approval of the Senate bill means “We are one step closer to ensuring these facilities are inspected and safe,” Roberts said in a statement. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent.

“The development of standards for natural gas storage facilities is long overdue,” Moran said in a statement. “I am thankful my Senate colleagues share my commitment to emphasizing safety, and I am hopeful this issue will be addressed by the House of Representatives very soon.”

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, said he’s co-sponsoring similar House legislation that he expects to come up for debate in the near future.

The Kansas lawmakers are hoping to prevent a repeat of the kind of disaster Hutchinson suffered in January 2001. In that incident, natural gas leaked from a storage field at Yaggy, migrated 7 miles through an underground river to Hutchinson, rose to the surface through abandoned wells and exploded.

One of the explosions killed an elderly couple in their trailer home, and another destroyed half a block of businesses downtown. Fires burned in the city for more than a month as the escaped gas was flared off.

“We lost two lives and had a significant loss of property …,” Roberts said in the statement. “As our nation begins to rely more and more on natural gas, we need to ensure there is a proper level of oversight to prevent dangerous explosions and any further loss of life.”

Kansas has 11 underground gas storage facilities with a capacity of more than 270 billion cubic feet of gas. Most of those storage facilities are much larger than the one that menaced Hutchinson.

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas

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