About six months ago, the folks from Kinder Morgan Energy Partners came knocking to talk about constructing a new line to pipe gasoline from El Paso to Tucson and north to Phoenix.
Imagine Steve Leal's surprise after city officials drew blanks when the Democratic City Councilman asked--in a routine manner--for the location of the existing pipe.
You'd think that someone at City Hall--filled with bureaucrats who want to tax every bit of right of way and assess all manner of utility franchise fees--had to know. But all were suddenly mum with Leal.
They know now.
And Leal will ask the City Council to approve a measure on Sept. 2, at the first meeting after the summer's second month-long recess, to demand a complete inventory of all pipelines.
The catalogue will include, in addition to what is pumped: location, age, condition, design, material, owner, previous owners, previous uses and maintenance and inspection records.
The 1950s pipe that Kinder Morgan--a company created in 1997 after Richard Kinder walked away from his job as president of Enron--purchased in 1998 ruptured on July 30 just outside the Silver Creek subdivision, east of Silverbell Road and north of Grant Road.
Leal recalls that Kinder Morgan reps broached a two-pipe concept.
Unlike the Enrons of the energy world, Kinder Morgan has concentrated on pipeline, storage and hard assets. It stayed away from risky energy trading. The company, according to a stack of industry and press reports, is run tightly and professionally. But it has been named as a defendant in a June lawsuit filed in Reno, Nev., that alleges leaks of jet fuel caused a cancer cluster and a disproportionate number of child leukemia cases in Fallon, a 60-mile drive from Reno.
In Tucson, about 10,000 gallons spilled from the leak. But the pipe shutdown set off a spike in Tucson gas prices--and a Mad Max world in Phoenix and metropolitan Maricopa County.
The real eruption hit Aug. 17 with a pinch in supply and a scramble by car-addicted Phoenicians for fuel. Story after apocalyptic story poured in about motorists driving in desperate, angry searches for gasoline and waiting in line for nearly an eight-hour shift to pay as much as $4 a gallon.
"Some dealers were just passing on the higher wholesale price, but then, you have those isolated cases where a retailer appears to have pumped all his allocation at $3.479 a gallon and made a quick $7,000 versus $600," said Jesse Lugo, a former longtime independent Chevron retailer who now lobbies on the behalf of independent service stations and after-market auto parts companies. "Boy, did (that retailer) piss off a lot of people."
Enough to spur state Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democrat, to begin a plan for legislators to adopt anti-gouging laws.
"It is a tough business to be in," said Lugo, an unsuccessful challenger to Leal two years ago and an unsuccessful candidate for the Legislature. "We are continuing to lose independent dealers by economic eviction by the oil companies."
Arizona gets its gas from that Kinder Morgan pipe--an 8-inch to 12-inch diameter line that carried about 54,000 barrels of fuel a day--as well as a 20-inch line from California, where refinery troubles also cast doubt on supplies and sane pricing. Under Kinder Morgan's proposed expansion, an $180-million project, capacity could be increased in the Tucson-to-Phoenix line by 25 percent.
All of this has brought déjà vu to Myra Jones, a fierce environmentalist who served on a key committee 15 years ago to put together a community inventory of hazardous storage, material and transport sites. U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, then a Tucson trauma surgeon, chaired the committee.
"These fuel lines are time bombs waiting to happen," Jones said. "They are all in disrepair. There are a bunch of questions to be asked, not the least of which is to know just what were sending our firefighters into. This is not something for grandstanding."
Jones is not part of some elite, boutique environmental or preservationist movement created overnight. She is among the warriors who fight toxic chemicals, dumping and environmental contamination including trichloroethylene that was dumped on the southside by the Air Force and Hughes Aircraft.
The daughter of a New Mexico gas and oil man, Jones pulled out a map to detail the path of the Kinder Morgan line--through the southside and heading north near Interstate 10, east of the Interstate 19 interchange, cutting diagonally through the length of the city of South Tucson to 22nd Street and west of I-10, and northwest of the Santa Cruz River until crossing the river again to run parallel to I-10 at Prince Road.
The crisis wrought by the failed line, now bypassed, has put a more favorable light on a proposal that Lugo has helped air in Tucson--which was home to Arizona's first refinery.
Phoenix-based Arizona Clean Fuels LLC seeks to produce clean-burning fuels without the additive MTBE at a refinery it wants to build in Mobile, a remote community in Maricopa County. That, too, has been controversial. The company has been trying to win approval for six years.