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Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Environment - "Sink-hole terrain will challenge Bluegrass Pipeline developers"

Updating a long ILB list of earlier pipeline stories, James Bruggers has a lengthy story today in the Louisville Courier Journal, that begins:

Even as landowners and officials battle the merits of the planned Bluegrass Pipeline, experts say that Kentucky’s sink-hole and cavern-riddled geology poses major construction and operational challenges to its developers.

One leading geologist said the potential problems are so significant that they need to be fully evaluated before any dirt gets turned on the plan to run about 150 miles of new 24-inch diameter pipeline through Kentucky. The pipeline would carry natural gas liquids from Pennsylvania to the Gulf Coast.

At issue is how pipeline construction and operations could be affected by karst, a landscape common in a large part of the commonwealth and is typically underlain by limestone pocked with fissures and caves.

Counties along the pipeline’s projected route are marked by “tens of thousands of sinkholes,” said Ralph O. Ewers, an Eastern Kentucky University professor emeritus and consultant to industry and government whose work has taken him to karst zones around the world.

Sinkholes can swallow infrastructure — roads, buildings and pipelines, he said, creating the danger that hazardous liquids might be released, then move swiftly through subterranean rivers and streams, polluting water sources a mile or more away. In addition, he said, deadly vapors can settle into caves.

“I am not sure they have picked the least vulnerable route,” Ewers said of the Bluegrass Pipeline developers.

For their part, the pipeline developers said there’s nothing to fear.

The lengthy story concludes:
Ewers acknowledged that engineers can build projects that safely adapt to karst. But he said that too often, that doesn’t happen, despite promises.

“There aren’t a lot of engineers in the world who understand karst very well,” Ewers insisted. “I have spent much of my career, and I am now 76, cleaning up after engineering mistakes.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on October 1, 2013 10:35 AM
Posted to Environment