- Associated Press - Saturday, July 19, 2014

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - The company responsible for a recent natural gas pipeline accident that spewed a hazardous substance outside a small town in eastern Kansas has faced more than $270,000 in fines for problems elsewhere along its pipelines since 2006, according to federal records.

A section of a Panhandle Eastern’s pipeline erupted June 19, spraying 1,300 gallons of natural gas condensate over about three miles near Olpe, Kansas, a town of about 550 residents south of Emporia. The Houston-based company said the accident occurred while crews were trying to clean the pipeline.

The oily residue of natural gas condensate hit a handful of homes and heavily damaged area crops and trees. Natural gas condensate, a mix of natural gas and hydrocarbons, typically contains toxic chemicals, including benzene, a carcinogen.

Sara Belfry, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said Wednesday that the cleanup, which is being paid for by Panhandle Eastern, has largely been completed, though KDHE was still awaiting results of soil and water samples to determine if the cleanup had been effective. She said full test results would likely take a couple more weeks.

KDHE did not expect any ill health effects among people in the area because the condensate was so spread out and cleanup began within days, Belfry said during a town hall meeting after the spill.

According to records from the U.S. Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which oversees pipelines in the U.S., Panhandle Eastern was fined $180,000 for a 2007 rupture and fire along the company’s pipeline near Pawnee, Illinois. The agency determined the company hadn’t properly maintained pipeline coating intended to prevent corrosion in that area. No injuries were reported.

“In this case, the potentially disastrous consequences of the Incident were directly linked to Respondent’s violation of its own procedures and the regulation,” Jeffrey Wiese, PHMSA’s associate administrator for pipeline safety, wrote in an order assessing the penalty. “Therefore, the specific facts of this case elevate both the gravity of the violation and the magnitude of the penalty.”

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