A proposed natural gas pipeline under the Columbia River to central Hanford could save taxpayer money and reduce greenhouse gases.
But there also were concerns about safety, spreading Hanford contamination and affects on wildlife raised at a Department of Energy meeting Thursday night in Pasco to take comments on what should be considered in a proposed environmental study.
About 80 people attended.
The approximately 30-mile pipeline would connect to an existing pipeline near the Pasco airport, then possibly cross under the Columbia River just north of Richland and travel northwest to central Hanford.
It would go into the ground several hundred feet away from the riverbanks and be 50 to 100 feet below the lowest depth of the river bottom.
During an informal question and answer session, questions were asked about whether a similar horizontal boring method had been used in the area, why there would not be leaks like a recent one on Gage Boulevard in Kennewick and whether contaminated ground water at Hanford would naturally travel along the path of the pipeline to reach Franklin County.
It is too soon in the planning process to have all the answers, said DOE and Cascade Natural Gas officials. Cascade would own, construct, operate and maintain the pipeline.
But the horizontal directional drilling method that would be used to install the pipeline under the Columbia is a widely used method.
It has been used to put a pipeline under the Yakima River at Toppenish, said Dave Yexley, Cascade project manager.
The Hanford pipeline would connect to the Williams Northwest transmission line, which already goes under the Columbia River elsewhere.
The pipeline materials would be pressure tested, and the pipeline would be surveyed annually for leaks along its route, Yexley said.
However, Daniel Serres of Columbia Riverkeeper said a planned pipeline of up to 20 inches is unreasonably large and increases the chances of problems when it is installed under the river.
Drilling also is more likely to fail the deeper the pipeline is installed, he said.
If drilling fails, mud can clog the river and damage salmon habitat, he said.
In addition, Franklin County property owners who might be affected, including at the staging area required for the drilling under the river, should have been personally invited to the meeting, Serres said.
Gene Van Liew, representing the Richland Rod and Gun Club, said the months when drilling is done should be carefully considered because of possible disturbance to spawning salmon and birds nesting on islands in the river.
But Gary Petersen, representing the Tri-City Development Council, said what would happen without the pipeline also should be considered.
It is proposed to replace about 35,000 gallons of diesel that would needed to be used each day at the Hanford vitrification plant plus an evaporation plant.
The vitrification plant is being built to treat radioactive waste left from the past production of plutonium and the evaporation facility reduces the amount of liquid waste.
During the expected 28 years of vit plant and evaporator use, using natural gas would save taxpayers an estimated $800 million, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 1 million tons and eliminate six tanker truck trips onto Hanford daily, according to Petersen and DOE.
The pipeline would create 100 jobs during its construction.
Public comments on the proposed study will continue to be accepted until Feb. 22. Mail them to Douglas Chapin, NEPA document manager, DOE Richland Operations Office, P.O. Box 550, MSIN A5-11, Richland, WA 99352. Or email them to naturalgaseis @rl.gov.
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