For most resident of the Metroplex area, Barnett Shale is a household name. Could Glen Rose residents soon be more familiar with the name as well?

Dr. Ed Ireland, executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, sent out a letter on Aug. 27 outlining the benefits of natural gas and discussing just how safe pipelines have become over the years.

Ireland’s letter, titled “Pipelines are the safest way to transport natural gas,” said five percent of the nation’s natural gas supply is produced in our region and business is booming.

“As production levels increase, the Barnett Shale needs additional pipeline infrastructure to safely transport natural gas from drilling areas to processing facilities and finally to end consumers,” Ireland said in his letter.

Ramona Nye, a spokeswoman for the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC), said Texas has 270,000 miles of various kinds of pipelines. That’s 21 percents of all pipelines in the United States. She said 45,000 miles of the pipelines in Texas are designated as natural gas transmission lines, 14 percent of all natural gas pipelines in the country.

The RRC has jurisdiction over intrastate lines, or pipelines that begin and end in Texas. Nye said the Department of Transportation, Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) regulates interstate lines.

Whether pipelines cross state borders or not, the transportation process is the same. Natural gas is collected at the drilling sight then feed into transmission lines. Compressor stations along the way move gas down the line. Once the natural gas arrives at a metering station, local distributors take it to end-users.

Ireland says less than 1/100th of one percent of all transportation accidents are attributed to pipelines.

“According to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) statistics, pipelines are indisputably the safest way to transport natural gas and other energy products,” he said in his letter.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has compiled statistics over the last 20 years. They classify pipeline incidents in two categories: serious or significant.

The PHMSA defines a “serious” incident as an event resulting in a fatality or injury requiring in-patient hospitalization.

An incident is “significant” when it results in: 1) a fatality or injury requiring in-patient hospitalization, 2) $50,000 or more in total costs, measured in 1984 dollars, 3) highly volatile liquid release of five barrels or more or other liquid releases of 50 barrels or more, 4) liquid releases that cause an unintentional fire or explosion.

Since 1988, PHMSA has reported 5,921 significant incidents for all national pipelines, with 283 occurring in 2007 and 173 so far this year.

Since 1988, 151 serious incidents have been reported during gas transmission; 11 serious incidents were reported during gas gathering; and 946 serious incidents were reported during gas distribution.

Year to date statistics show only two serious incidents during gas transmission and 20 serious incidents during distribution.

Ireland’s letter reports that over the last 10 years, 16 people in Texas were injured and two people were killed during pipeline incidents.

The PHMSA reports these as on-shore gas transmission statistics. They also report 54 people injured and 14 killed during gas distribution in Texas.

“Technological advances have radically changed how natural gas pipelines are constructed, inspected and monitored,” Ireland said. “Today, gathering and transmission pipelines are built with special coated steel to prevent corrosion. And companies monitor pipelines 24-hours a day from state-of-the-art operations control centers.”

Nye said the RRC inspects natural gas transmission lines every one, two or three years.

Ireland said in his letter that incidents have decreased and the leading cause of serious incidents is outside damage.

Nye said 76 percent of pipeline accidents in Texas result from third-party damage. Twelve percent of Texan pipeline accidents are a result of corrosion or rust on the line. Another twelve percent result from operator error and material failure.

“As the Barnett Shale plays a larger role in onshore U.S. natural gas production, the need for additional gathering and transportation pipelines will increase,” Ireland said at the conclusion of his letter.

Is the Barnett Shale coming to Glen Rose?

Sarah Gordon, the representative who distributed Ireland’s letter, said they sent the letter to media outlets close to the Metroplex and did not believe they were actively planning on building a line in Somervell County.

There is only one natural gas pipeline in Somervell County. The line is owned by Atmos and cuts straight through the center of the county and Glen Rose. Overall, Somervell County has 32 miles of gas pipelines and 13 miles of liquid transmission lines.

“I see no new construction reports for Somervell County,” Nye said.

Companies must apply for permits with the RRC before beginning construction on new lines within Texas’ borders.

Companies must apply through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) if the pipeline will cross state lines.

Tamara Young-Allen, a spokeswoman from FERC, said Barnett Shale has two pending pipeline proposals in Texas to transport Barnett Shale gas to eastern markets.

Ozark Natural Gas Company filed one proposal. Southern Supply Header filed the second one and they will begin construction “fairly shortly.”

“The commission recently approved a pipeline by Mid-Continental Gas Transportation Company, but we don’t have any brand new proposals pending,” Young-Allen said.

Ireland’s complete letter is posted on the Reporter Web site.