Exposed pipelines raise concerns in Placitas
—Photos by Dwight Patterson
Company resolves mystery of exposed gas pipeline
The mystery pipeline discovered dangling over an arroyo in Placitas isn't a mystery to the gas company whose predecessor once owned it.
In December a hiker informally monitoring the pipeline corridors for the Las Placitas Association spotted about thirty feet of exposed pipeline dangling over an arroyo in northwestern Placitas. Nearby aboveground markers suggested it was part of the 59-year-old Western Refining oil pipeline connecting the Four Corners with El Paso, Texas, by way of southeastern New Mexico.
Western promptly sent someone to the site on Bureau of Land Management land off Santa Ana Loop between the Placitas Open Space and Interstate 25. That quickly determined it was not Western's 16-inch oil line but possibly an abandoned four-inch gas line.
And that now appears to be the case.
"The last time this came up, it was another individual there who had called the Office of Pipeline Safety with the (Public Regulation Commission), and that was in 2012 I think," said Curtis Winner, Director of Safety, Land, and Technical Services for New Mexico Gas Company. "We walked some of the exposures, and we put some permanent wraps on it that said 'Abandoned Pipeline.'"
The wraps apparently weren't permanent, however, and the company was planning another field trip to mark the line again, Winner said.
A 1959 Southern Union Gas Company survey provided by NMGC does point to a relationship between the gas and oil lines. The survey, part of an application to cross BLM land in Placitas, shows the gas line running parallel to and ten feet north of the oil line built by the Texas-New Mexico Pipe Line Co. in 1957 and early 1958.
Winner said the gas line tapped into a main line running between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, although company records don't show the purpose of the line. The Signpost contacted Western Refining, which restored the oil pipeline to service two years ago, and has yet to hear back on what records there might reveal.
Current speculation is the gas line might have powered a pump station in Placitas used to move the oil over the Crest of Montezuma and on to the east. The pump station now in use by Western is about a mile north of Placitas village on Pine D Rancho Road at Camino de las Huertas.
Additional documents provided by NMGC show that, regardless of its past use, the gas line was abandoned 1990 when it was still owned by the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), which operated a combined gas and electric utility at the time. The line was not part of the package when NMGC bought PNM's natural-gas system in 2009.
The Las Placitas Association has been on a campaign to improve pipeline safety and protect groundwater from leads and spills. A plan to install independent monitor wells stalled over the complexity of setting up a tax district to fund the project, and LPA is now exploring ways to relocate the pipelines to a less-populated route.
The pipeline corridor entering Placitas from the west splits as it reaches the Placitas Open Space 1.5 miles east of Interstate 25. The Western Refining oil line angles to the southeast while the Kinder Morgan carbon-dioxide pipe and Enterprise Products Mid America Pipeline lines carrying gas liquids run east along and under Las Huertas Creek before leaving the valley to reach the east side of the Sandia Mountains.
The LPA monitors also discovered a section of the Enterprise/MAPL line exposed by runoff in Las Huertas Creek. The company told the Signpost it was aware of the exposure, tested the line to confirm its safety, and would be covering it back up.
New Mexico Environment Department to ensure safe reopening of WIPP
~Allison Scott Majure
In January, the New Mexico Environment Department acknowledged their role in ensuring a safe reopening of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, while recognizing the first emplacement of transuranic waste into the underground repository.
Following a fire and separate radiological event that closed the facility in February 2014, the New Mexico Environment Department began a comprehensive investigation, and led efforts to hold the DOE accountable. This month’s waste emplacement marks the first waste to be disposed of in the WIPP underground since the facility closed for recovery operations following the 2014 incidents.
“For nearly three years, we have held the federal government accountable and ensured that they implemented the corrective actions prescribed. These activities were successful and allowed us to give the green light to open it back up," said New Mexico Environment Secretary Butch Tongate. "As we move forward, we're going to continue to closely monitor operations at WIPP to ensure a safe reopening of this critical facility, which is so important to our state and nation's security.”