Nicor dispute with railroad endangers winter heat for 250,000
By Steve Daniels, Crain’s Chicago Business, September 28, 2017
More than 250,000 suburban customers of Nicor Gas are in danger of going without heat this winter because of a dispute between the utility and CN over the cause of a summer train derailment in Plainfield.
Nicor, the state’s largest natural-gas utility, with 2.2 million suburban customers, sued yesterday in Cook County Circuit Court to force the railroad to give Nicor contractors access to a key pipeline segment.
That pipe, which was being rebuilt at the time of the June 30 derailment and has remained inoperable since, is needed to ensure there’s enough gas to supply more than 250,000 customers in western Cook County and eastern DuPage County when the weather gets cold, the utility said.
CN is demanding that Nicor accept financial responsibility for the derailment, which resulted in 30,000 gallons of crude oil spilling in Plainfield. CN blames Nicor’s contractor working in the area for weakening the ground supporting the tracks and causing the accident.
Nicor says CN hasn’t given the utility access to the area to perform its own investigation.
“In a cynical attempt to force Nicor to accept without investigation its tender of indemnification for damages associated with the derailment, CN has attempted to block Nicor from doing any further work—either to complete the replacement of the (line) or to simply return to service the original line that has operated safely for 40 years,” according to Nicor’s complaint.
Nicor is seeking a court order to force CN to allow it to ensure its old pipeline in the area is prepared for service.
Nicor first built the Aux Sable Line in 1977 beneath railroad right of way. Nicor has paid the railroad $20,000 since then for access, according to the complaint.
The line supplies about 33 million cubic feet of natural gas per hour. It wasn’t needed during the summer, when demand is light, but it will be in the winter, Nicor said.
“Even after Nicor’s efforts to mitigate the effect of a disruption, approximately 250,000 customers could be without gas service and heat, which would constitute a serious threat to public safety,” according to Nicor’s complaint. “This would affect not only residences, but also hospitals, schools, nursing homes, businesses and industrial customers.”
The accident remains under federal investigation. “Nicor Gas is cooperating fully with the investigation, and if the work being performed by Nicor Gas’ contractors led, in whole or in part, to the events connected to the derailment, Nicor Gas will deal with any issues of financial liability at the appropriate time, separately from the immediate need to restore natural gas service to our customers,” the utility said in a statement.
A CN spokesman had no immediate comment but said the railroad would issue a statement later today.
Communities potentially affected by the dispute are Des Plaines, Schaumburg, Elk Grove Village, Wood Dale, Itasca, Medinah, Bensenville, Addison, Glen Ellyn, Villa Park, Elmhurst, Lombard, Schiller Park, Franklin Park, Elmwood Park, Rosemont, River Grove, Stone Park, Melrose Park, Hillside, Berkeley, Westchester, Broadview, North Riverside, La Grange Park, Riverside, Brookfield, Western Springs, Oak Brook, Oakbrook Terrace, Glendale Heights and Roselle, Nicor said.
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