Pipeline companies want to change the law to avoid fines from Louisiana State Police

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A Louisiana State Police commander told a Louisiana House committee Thursday that a bill to cut the state police out of notifications concerning small gas leaks would be a danger to public health.

HB 549, introduced by Rep. Danny McCormick (R-Oil City), would stop Louisiana State Police from being able to ticket pipeline companies for failing to immediately notify them of small natural gas releases by changing the definition of a pipeline from a mode of transport, which the state police has authority over,  to a facility, which they don’t. The bill advanced out of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee without opposition Thursday.

Rep. Mccormick said he would never bring legislation to the committee that he thought was a threat to public health. “I spent my life in rural Caddo Parish where these pipelines are. My friends, my family, everybody I know lives in that area,” he said. 

The bill comes after CenterPoint Energy and Atmos Energy were both assessed fines for failing to notify the Louisiana State Police of natural gas releases less than 1,000 pounds. CenterPoint Energy attempted to challenge its fine in court, but the fine was dropped before the judge could make a decision on the case, said Trey Hill, a lobbyist for Atmos Energy and Louisiana Gas Association.

Hill said that local fire departments are better trained to respond to natural gas pipeline incidents than the Louisiana State Police. “The reality of it is that the state police’s resources are stretched in most cases,” he said. “Your fire departments are the ones we work with more often than not.”

John Porter, the commander of the Emergency Services Unit of the Louisiana State Police, said that natural gas leaks less than 1,000 pounds could be a concern if they happen in busy intersections or populated areas. “All we’re asking is for notification for us so we can get the proper emergency services people out there to protect the public,” he said. Porter went on to say that natural gas pipelines pose different risks than industrial facilities, which often have their own emergency response teams and are confined within a fenceline. 

Atmos Energy, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association and Entergy were among the supporters of the bill Thursday. Haywood Martin, the Chair of the Sierra Club Delta Chapter, opposed the bill.