Questions about Red Lake Gas Storage Project abound as city and citizens take action

Part I of series

Concern about a proposed natural gas storage facility north of Kingman has prompted the city to request further surveys, as opponents to the project gear up for a major battle.

In January the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) determined that the proposed Red Lake gas storage project would fulfill a public need for gas storage, but reserved the right to determine whether the impact on the environment outweighed a public need for the facility.

FERC, one of the regulatory agencies that must approve the project, is conducting an environmental assessment.

But some residents think FERC isn't taking a close enough look at the proposal.

"We are adamantly against this project," said Denise Bensusan.

"It will affect Kingman's drinking water.

The process to inject brine back into the ground has never been tested.

There are too many unanswered questions about this."

Bensusan, who lives near the Red Lake area where Red Lake Gas Storage, L.P., hopes to build a salt cavern storage facility for natural gas, said more testing is needed to determine the environmental impact of the project.

Robert Fenwick, who also lives near Red Lake, said he is frustrated that FERC did not order an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)- a more detailed environment study than an Environmental Assessment - at the outset of the project.

Red Lake Gas Storage, L.P., a subsidiary of Aquila, an energy holding company based in Kansas City, Mo., bought the storage project from Southwest Gas Corp.

in Jan.

2002, with the intention of building an underground natural gas storage facility 30 miles north of Kingman, with pipelines connected to interstate natural gas pipelines.

The sale included 36,000 acres and the right to develop a salt cavern storage facility and the water and mineral rights needed to build it.

The project would consist of two underground salt caverns, about 52 miles of varying-diameter pipeline, 34,000 horsepower of compression, brine disposal wells and gas storage facilities.

Thirty-six inch underground pipes would carry the gas from the facility along one of three proposed routes to interstate natural gas pipelines near D W Ranch Road and Interstate 40 near Kingman.

"We need an EIS done, because no one knows what is going to happen when they put that salt back into the water," said Fenwick's wife, Fern.

"There are also other issues to consider, such as the natural gas wells and pipelines through people's back yards."

The Fenwicks, Bensusan and environmentalist Jack Ehrhardt have formed a small coalition to speak for approximately 50 project opponents who attended public meetings months ago.

The coalition hired Myron Scott, a Tempe environmental attorney, to represent them, and said Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano has agreed to meet with them to discuss the project.

An EIS was done when a similar project was proposed in the Red Lake area 22 years ago, and the group wants Scott to find out why FERC did not require the more comprehensive EIS when this project was first proposed.

"Based on what I have read so far they need to do an Environmental Impact Statement," Scott said of project officials.

"With all the new technology it makes no sense today to say an EIS is not needed."

However, when Mark Robinson, the director of energy projects at FERC, spoke to the Kingman Daily Miner Wednesday he said an environmental assessment is sometimes done first to determine whether the more comprehensive EIS is warranted.

"We look at all land-use issues," he said.

"We look very closely at how the water will be handled, how much will be used, and the salinity of any discharge," he said.

"There are state standards that have to be adhered to."

Robinson said the development of the salt caverns to store the natural gas is a temporary use of water lasting from one and a half to two years, and that Red Lake Gas Storage, L.P.

is required to conduct all appropriate safety testing, including mechanical integrity tests and cement bond tests on all injection/withdrawal, source water and disposal wells.

"I assure you we are following all the issues," he said.

"We will present to the commission what we know regarding the development of the project, and the monitoring of the facility once it is constructed."

The FERC commission consists of three presidential appointees who can approve or disapprove the project, or order a more detailed EIS.

If the commission determines an EIS is needed, Aquila would be required to pay for the environmental study, which could cost $1 million or more.

Red Lake Gas Storage project manager Mark Cook said the company has gone the extra mile conducting numerous tests and surveys.

"Most things that are required in an EIS, we have done," Cook said.

"We have tested every aspect of this project.

The salt mass has been cored and tested for density and strength, and we are currently doing geophysical surveys of the area.

"We have done more in our EA than they did in the EIS then (in 1982).

We have done them anyway to prove we know what we are doing."

Meanwhile, questions about the project prompted Kingman Mayor Les Byram to send a letter to FERC in December opposing the project.

The letter raises concerns about the large volumes of brine that will be pumped out of and into the Red Lake basin, the possibility natural-gas leaks once it is built and safety concerns about explosions and pipelines near residential areas.

City officials have also filed for intervener status with FERC, said Kingman city attorney Robert Taylor.

Intervener status means the city does not approve of the project but must be informed of all decisions.

"The principal concern of the city is the impact the project may have on the water supply," said Luis Vegas, a Kingman geologist hired by the city to evaluate the environmental impact of the project.

Vega said the city is waiting for two geophysical surveys conducted by a Flagstaff geologist to further evaluate the effect the project could have on Kingman's future water supply.

Part II of this series will include issues and concerns regarding water used for the Red Lake Gas Storage Project, including information from Vega and Lantz Indergard, a remediation and resource specialist at Arcadis, an environmental firm in Phoenix.

Part III will include Red Lake Gas Storage Project issues and concerns regarding the storage and transfer of natural gas in and around the Kingman area.