Atmos looking for alternative solution to pipeline shutdown

Published 12:10am Wednesday, April 9, 2014

NATCHEZ — The company that supplies natural gas to many homes in the area says it’s working to find alternatives to a proposed shutdown of the pipeline that provides its gas supply.

American Midstream Partners filed a request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to abandon the Midla pipeline, which runs from Monroe to Baton Rouge through the Natchez-Vidalia area and is the only pipeline supplying natural gas to the area.

AMP officials said the pipeline closure is necessary because it has exceeded its useful life and could potentially be dangerous to continue operations. The company has asked for a decision by June.

The shutdown could mean no natural gas service to an area that includes Clayton, Ferriday, Vidalia, Natchez and Woodville, or significantly increased prices as the pipeline’s owners raise transmission fees.

One possible alternative pipeline is owned by Adams County. The board of supervisors acquired the line — which runs from the Natchez-Adams Count Port to Lake St. John — when it purchased the former International Paper property last year.

“We have had (board attorney Scott Slover) and (Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ) meet with officials in Concordia Parish and Vidalia, along with Atmos, to see if there is any interest in that gas line,” Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said. “The board has given the charge to see if anybody can utilize it.”

Grennell said he was unsure what kind of maintenance might need to be done to get the pipeline in working order.

Atmos Energy in Natchez is one of the largest customers on the Midla pipeline, and an Atmos spokesman said in an email statement Tuesday the company is in discussion with other customers and the relevant state agencies in an attempt to work through the situation.

“(Atmos) continues to negotiate and discuss alternative supply scenarios and solutions with the closest pipelines in Mississippi and Louisiana,” the statement said.

AMP has previously stated it is willing to recommence negotiations with Atmos, which were broken off shortly before AMP announced an “open season” seeking commitments to use the pipeline from other customers and industries last year.

The Atmos spokesman said the company’s position is the situation should be resolved under the guidelines laid out by the Natural Gas Act and FERC.

“Atmos Energy has a standing offer for Midla to meet with us and other customers as part of a FERC Alternative Dispute Resolution process,” the statement read.  “Atmos Energy will continue to work toward a solution on behalf of our customers to ensure the continued safe reliable transportation of natural gas to the region.”

Before AMP can abandon the Midla pipeline, it has to get approval from FERC. A bill pending in the Louisiana State Legislature that will retroactively require AMP to get approval from the Louisiana Public Service Commission will also likely be in place before the company can commence the shutdown.

Mississippi Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker and Louisiana Senators Mary Landrieu and David Vitter have contacted FERC to object to the pipeline closure, as have U.S. Congressmen Gregg Harper of Mississippi and Vance McAllister of Louisiana.

Local officials in Adams County and Vidalia have likewise stated their intent to file formal objections to the proposal.