CO2 pipeline proposed for Catron, Socorro Counties


Hundreds of acres of private land will be condemned in three counties — Socorro, Catron and Torrence — for a pipeline carrying liquid carbon dioxide used to enhance oil recovery. The pipeline, snaking across the landscape and under two rivers, will be completed in 2015.

Photo courtesy of BLM.: Kinder Morgan’s proposed route for a 213-mile, 16-inch diameter underground pipeline carrying liquid carbon dioxide crosses Catron and Socorro Counties before joining the company’s Cortez pipeline in Torrance County.

The United States Bureau of Land Management is seeking public input for the proposed Kinder Morgan Inc. Lobos CO2 Pipeline. The 213-mile pipeline will transport CO2 being produced at the St. Johns field in Arizona to the existing Kinder Morgan Cortez CO2 pipeline in Torrance County. Kinder Morgan’s 30-inch, 502-mile Cortez line delivers CO2 from southwest Colorado to the Denver Hub oil fields in west Texas. Public scoping meetings were held in December 2013 at Quemado, Socorro, Roswell, Mountainair and Belen. Written comments can be mailed or emailed to the Socorro BLM Field Office until Jan. 29.

Kinder Morgan’s preferred route for the underground 16-inch steel pipeline takes it east from Arizona along the north side of Highway 60 before heading northeast somewhere between Omega and Pie Town to skirt the northern boundary of the Cibola National Forest before crossing tribal lands, according to acting BLM Socorro Field Office Manager Mark Matthews.

It will then travel just south of the Cibola/Socorro county line, staying mostly on private land north of Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. It will go under the Rio Grande, and then continue east close to Abo Canyon as it angles northeast to the Cortez line in Torrance County. The exact route of the pipeline has not yet been determined, he said, pending input received during the scoping period.

“Until we actually go through the scoping process, we don’t know what the route will be,” he said. “That’s the purpose of scoping — to gather information and comments. After we finish the scoping period, that’s when we will start developing routes.”

Kinder Morgan surveyed its preferred route at its own expense.

The company will need 100-foot easements to build the pipeline — approximately 2,134 acres on private land, 773 on BLM land, 345 on state land and 177 on tribal lands, according to transcripts from the Quemado meeting. The pipeline will be buried anywhere from three to 36 feet deep, and up to 40 feet deep under the Rio Puerco and Rio Grande.

“There will be no spans across rivers,” BLM project manager Mike Mackiewicz said at the Socorro meeting. For safety’s sake, a thicker pipeline will be buried under rivers.

The company will reduce the construction easement requirement on sensitive terrain.

“For critical riparian areas and the like, they will do their level best to reduce the impacts by choking down as much as they can to safely construct the pipeline,” he said, according to transcripts from the Quemado meeting.

After construction, Mackiewcz said the entire easement will be reclaimed.

“We’re very serious about visual impacts and reclamation of land,” he said.

Special consideration will be made to reduce the pipeline’s impact on farmers, Kinder Morgan engineer Bobby Curbow III told the Quemado audience.

“… In some areas, like a cultivated field across the Rio Grande River…, we will be five feet deep so that … we don’t have to worry about their tills or anything encountering it.”

At the Socorro meeting, Curbow said the company will take special consideration to protect topsoil during excavation.

“(We’ll) scrape off (the topsoil) to the side and then replace it on top of the subsoil,” he said.

Curbow said Kinder Morgan is already consulting with the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District to minimize impacts on irrigation systems in the Rio Grande valley.

After construction, the company plans to retain a permanent 50-foot access easement for maintenance, which will have markers installed but not fences. The property owners will be able to use the maintenance easement for farming or grazing, but trees and structures will be prohibited. Landowners should be able to use the land as they did before the project.

At the Socorro meeting, the question of condemnation of private lands for the pipeline was raised.

According to Section 65-4-8 of New Mexico state law, private companies building pipelines conveying oil or gas or products associated with them for the public benefit can use the power of eminent domain to condemn private lands needed as easements for burial of these lines. Once the pipeline is buried, the owner retains use of the land , but must allow the company access for maintenance. State law encourages private companies to negotiate with landowners before exercising condemnations.

BLM manager Mark Matthews said Kinder Morgan has contacting landowners in the preferred route ahead of the scoping period.

“They’re dealing with private landowners to address their concerns,” Matthews said in a telephone interview. “Kinder Morgan will negotiate with the landowners. BLM encourages agreements between landowners and Kinder Morgan. If they cannot reach an agreement, then litigation will be matter between Kinder Morgan and the land owners.”

Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring heavy, odorless, colorless gas. Unlike oxygen, carbon dioxide does not burn; it is used in many fire extinguishers to smother flames. Because it is heavier than air, it can cause asphyxiation if it builds up in low areas.

According to a 2010 Dutch study, animals and especially humans are sensitive to even short periods of increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. CO2 exposure at low levels can cause some adverse health effects, including headaches and respiratory problems. CO2 leaking into the ground could acidify groundwater, which would not reduce its suitability for domestic use, but might affect plant and fish productivity.

The study said even a complete rupture of a large pipeline would probably not expose humans to a lethal dose of CO2.

CO2 pipeline failures are rare; only 13 accidents have been reported between 1986-2008, according to a study made by the state of California. None of accidents resulted in injuries or death.

A Mountain View Telegraph article published Jan. 14 reported Belen-area landowner Mike Mechenbier’s concerns about Kinder Morgan’s commitment to maintenance. Mechenbier claimed Kinder Morgan’s natural gas pipeline crossing his property is “exposed and in disrepair.”

Kinder Morgan’s pipeline maintenance policy has also been the target of national scrutiny. According to a Sept. 10, 2013, Reuters news article, the research firm Hedgeye Risk Management accused the company of, among other things, skimping on maintenance work to increase profit, a charge Kinder Morgan’s Chairman Rich Kinder denied.

But Kinder Morgan’s CO2 pipelines appear to have an excellent track record.

“We have had an excellent record of operating more than 1,500 miles of CO2 pipelines,” said Kinder Morgan’s spokesman Richard N. Wheatley in an email. “Releases have been minor, resulting in no fires, injuries or deaths and only temporary impacts to the land or pipelines or facilities involved. Most incidents have resulted in no land impact and the impacts are frozen ground that leaves no residual effect and is remediated during the repair of the facility. When CO2 is released and enters the atmosphere, it quickly vaporizes and is not flammable.”

In Oct. 14, 2004, a CO2 leak occurred on Kinder Morgan’s Canyon Reef Carriers pipeline, which released CO2 affecting land, but resulted in no injuries. Wheatley said the CO2 leak happened when the ground subsided. A half-inch fitting released a small amount of CO2 underground, creating an ice ball that pushed up the dirt above the pipeline.

“The pipeline was safely shut down and repairs completed,” he said. “The incident affected an area of land less than 20 feet by 20 feet.”

At the Socorro meeting, Kinder Morgan engineer Bobby Curbow said the company would maintain 24-hour remote sensing of the Lobos pipeline.

Technicians living nearby will be available to respond immediately to any problems. The U.S. Dept. of Transportation has strict safety standards, but does not require on-site inspections.

As for Mechenbier’s claim about problems with the natural gas pipeline on his property, Wheatley said the company is in the process of addressing his concerns, but that the “issue does not involve the CO2 business.”


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