Gas pipeline under aquifer concerns water customer

Wanda English Burnett

A Sunman resident has great concerns about the water she uses from Hoosier Hills Regional Water District (HHRWD).

Eva Kerner contacted The Versailles Republican saying she had received a notice from her water company, HHRWD, saying because of construction of a gas pipeline the local water supply could be compromised.

Kerner shared the message from the water company with the newspaper. It reads in part: “The board regrets to inform the members of an entity known as Rocky Express Pipeline LLC (REX) that is constructing a 42” gas pipeline through our aquifer. The current proposed location of the gas pipeline represents a threat to your water supply.”

The notice went on to say REX is boring under the Whitewater River 40 to 50 feet below the river bed directly into and through the aquifer. “Contamination issues are likely to threaten the aquifer with these construction activities or with the location of the natural gas pipeline as proposed. HHRWD officials have been working to have this gas main relocated but have been unsuccessful to date.”

An attorney for the HHRWD told The Versailles Republican that they have been battling this issue for about two years now. They are monitoring the water quality throughout the construction process.

The HHRWD serves customers in Ripley County including the Town of Milan. It also has customers in Franklin and Dearborn counties.

Kerner contacted the Indiana Department of Environmental Management concerning the issue. In a reply from Brad Baughn, business and legislative liaison for IDEM, he gave information on IDEM’s involvement with the situation and information on the Rockies Express Pipeline.

“First it should be made clear that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management does not have the authority to prohibit this type of construction project. Local authorities are responsible for how they manage their wellhead protection programs. However, IDEM’s Drinking Water section does operate an education and assistance program which helps local officials in developing and managing their well field protection zones.”

He noted, “In this particular case, our Drinking Water section’s involvement has mostly been related to protection of the aquifer as a drinking water source. Since the pipeline will carry natural gas, the potential for any lasting impact on the aquifer should a leak occur is very, very minimal and is highly unlikely to impact drinking water.
The letter continued, “The construction of the pipeline itself will disturb the material of the aquifer, but we do not believe the disturbance will be significant or will negatively impact the drinking water.”

Baughn further noted that the pipeline company, REX, has an extensive groundwater monitoring system that is designed to alert them if an impact occurs. He said since the monitoring system has been put into place (during the pre-construction phase of the project, and during construction) laboratory testing results confirm the water quality remains unaffected by the construction activities. He said testing of the monitoring system is done on a weekly basis.

The letter went on to say REX has also developed an extensive spill prevention plan preventing any spills from occurring without full reporting to both Hoosier Hills Regional Water District and the FERC or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
REX maintains that the “extremely conservative” measures they have taken should prevent any impacts to the water supply now or in the future.

REX is a proposed 1,679 mile natural gas pipeline system from Rio Blanco County, Colorado, to Monroe County, Ohio. According to IDEM’s Baughn, it is one of the largest natural gas pipelines constructed in North America and one of the most significant in the last 25 years. “The mapping and construction of REX was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which is an independent agency that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas and oil. The docket number is CP07-208-000.”

Baughn says that REX environmental teams will continue to coordinate water sampling at Hoosier Hills WPA groundwater monitoring wells and are confident, as is the FERC, that the precautions taken will prevent any problem with the water supply.

Ironically enough as Kerner and other water customers of HHRWD worry about the safety of their water supply, IDEM and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the celebration of the 35th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act just this week.
The Safe Drinking Water Act was passed into law in 1974 to protect public health by regulating the nation’s public drinking water supply and protecting sources of drinking water in America. A press release read, “In Indiana, IDEM is charged with ensuring the safety of drinking water and protecting ground water.”

Information from IDEM noted, that they work in a number of ways to protect public water supplies from contaminants that occur naturally or come from human and animal activities. It was noted that they oversee all public water supplies to ensure they are complying with state and federal standards, including water quality and treatment techniques.

IDEM also offers technical assistance, performs facility inspections and provides emergency assistance to public water supplies and operators. They also assist public water systems with security and infrastructure protection efforts.

All of the safety measures in place by the state agencies still does not comfort Kerner as she worries about the water she and others drink. Kerner concluded, "How safe is the water when there’s a natural gas pipeline running beneath the aquifer the water supply comes from?"