Kinder Morgan has big coal export designs for the Columbia River. Before Northwest officials decide whether to give the go-ahead, the public should examine Kinder Morgan’s track record with coal elsewhere because it’s plain awful.
And it’s only getting worse.
Down south, Jonathan Henderson has collected a series of images of Kinder Morgan’s operations on the lower Mississippi where the firm stores huge coal piles by the river side with only puny containment systems. When Hurricane Isaac hit the region in late August, it overwhelmed Kinder Morgan’s bare-bones safety features sending coal cascading into local water bodies and blanketing the surrounding marshes with coal dust.
As Henderson points out in his commentary:
Coal is stored in large piles at terminals, and these piles are extremely susceptible to the elements such as wind and rain. Residents in Plaquemines communities like Ironton and Myrtle Grove complain that coal dust coats their homes, playgrounds, plants, cars and boats. Coal runoff has heavy metals, sulfides, and other toxics that impair the health existing marshes and degrades water quality. It also poses significant risks to human health… The direct discharge of coal dust into water bodies, which was apparent from the photographs you just saw, threatens the health of fish and other critters. Ultimately, the entire food chain is at risk.
It’s true that the lower Columbia, where Kinder Morgan wants to operate, is not exposed to hurricanes, but it’s also clear that the company does not adequately prepare for local weather conditions. What’s more, the Northwest is susceptible to occasional storms with extremely high wind velocity—among the fiercest anywhere in the country—and late autumn rains routinely result in serious river floods. There’s not much reason to think that Kinder Morgan would take better care of the Columbia than they do of the Mississippi:
Keep in mind that this photo—clearly showing coal dust spewing into the Mississippi—was taken on a calm day. Ugly as it is, this is an image of Kinder Morgan’s coal operations when things are going well.
Update 11/1/12 — Not that we needed more proof that Kinder Morgan is a bad actor, but now it turns out the company is “racking up fines” from the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for violations at a petroleum storage facility in Eugene. These fines for Kinder Morgan come on the heels of federal penalties for insufficient risk management at two natural gas processing plants in Wyoming.