PLACITAS — A maze of yellow pipeline placards swerve in and out of the natural landscape that surrounds a Placitas neighborhood overlooking the Las Huertas Creek.
A quick view from the road reveals a pipeline pattern that runs through this usually dormant creek and up and down a few hills before leading westward beyond I-25.
Although it is not unusual for pipelines to run under structures and different terrain throughout the state, a group of Placitans are concerned about what may happen when the water in the creek flows at full force.
David Haigh, vice president of the community safety group Las Placitas Association, said he has been aware of the pipeline running in and around the creek since he was given his plat four years ago after purchasing his home. As the hill declines behind Haigh’s home, it descends into the Las Huertas Creek less than 200 yards from his back door.
“You know the pipeline is there because you can’t drive anywhere without seeing the placards everywhere you go,” Haigh said with a smirk.
According to Haigh, there are over 3,000 homes that surround Las Huertas Creek, making a possible rupture to one of the pipelines a potential catastrophe.
For years, he said, Placitas residents have been concerned about how much damage the pipelines can take given, that the water in the creek can move large boulders and trees.
“Many of these lines have been here for 60 years with no incident, but the flip side is that they’ve been here for 60 years with no incident,” Haigh said. “It’s every day closer to something happening…Everything made by man could fail at some point.”
He said the water in the creek rose so high one year it blew out a nearby bridge leaving many Placitans with the question of how many times a pipeline could be hit before rupturing.
The pressure per square inch in each pipeline varies between 1600-2000 pounds per square inch, he said.
“This is dangerous because if one pipe experiences a micro-fracture, then the rest will blow right along with it,” Haigh said.
The situation was important enough to the LPA that they gave a presentation to the Sandoval County Commission earlier this month. LPA member Dwight Patterson showed commissioners videos of the creek’s flow and several images of pipelines that had been exposed because of erosion, leaving them vulnerable to fractures.
“All of those rocks you see in the creek bed turn into bullets at 2,100 psi,” Patterson said. “That’s our concern… the CO2 (carbon dioxide) line is being beat up, we have two NGLs (natural gas lines) that are at 1650 psi, and we have a liquid gasoline line there and they are all in close proximity.”
Patterson told the commission a few homeowners built on top of one of the pipelines because it was dormant for 20 years, but now it’s being utilized.
“They were lied to,” Patterson said. “It was thought by everybody who built a house over it that it was never going to be resurrected, but it was.”
Besides residential property, he said, this pipeline also runs under a senior center and a school, and is running at full capacity.
Each line, Patterson said, is 2-3 feet underground throughout the Las Huertas Creek valley and transfers millions of gallons of product daily.
These pipelines are utilized and monitored by Enterprise Products, an American natural gas and oil pipeline company based in Houston.
Rick Rainey, corporate vice president for Enterprise Products, said the pipelines are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week from a control room using proven technology that gathers critical operating data and allows personnel to shut down or isolate sections of the pipeline remotely in case of an emergency.
“An aerial patrol of the MAPL (Mid America Pipeline) pipelines is typically conducted every week,” Rainey said. “The pipeline right-of-way is also monitored routinely by field crews on the ground.”
Rainey said the pipelines in question were first installed in 1973, and Mid-America Pipeline has owned them since 2002.
“In the unlikely event of an incident, MAPL has a comprehensive emergency response plan in place that complies with all appropriate federal and state requirements,” Rainey said. “These safety measures are implemented by personnel specially trained to mitigate the public and environmental impact. Additionally, MAPL conducts safety drills with local emergency responders and law enforcement to help ensure a timely and appropriate response to an incident.”
After Patterson’s presentation to the commission, Chairman Dave Heil asked what the LPA wanted the commission to do, since this issue wasn’t a county issue.
“We would like the commission to write a letter to the state asking for help,” Patterson said. “We would like to see these line re-routed from their present path.”
Heil proposed that he and Commissioner James Holden-Rhodes hold a few meetings in Placitas to discuss possible solutions. Haigh said it would cost the oil company close to $400 million for the proposed re-route, but in the end, it would save the company money because an explosion would cost billions.
Rainey said MAPL meets or exceeds the regulatory requirements applicable to its pipelines and is not contemplating their relocation.