COMMITMENTS AND CONTINGENCIES
Environmental Matters - We are subject to multiple historical, wildlife preservation and environmental laws and/or regulations, which affect many aspects of our present and future operations. Regulated activities include, but are not limited to, those involving air emissions, storm water and wastewater discharges, handling and disposal of solid and hazardous wastes, wetland preservation, hazardous materials transportation, and pipeline and facility construction. These laws and regulations require us to obtain and/or comply with a wide variety of environmental clearances, registrations, licenses, permits and other approvals. Failure to comply with these laws, regulations, licenses and permits or the discovery of presently unknown environmental conditions may expose us to fines, penalties and/or interruptions in our operations that could be material to our results of operations. In addition, emission controls and/or other regulatory or permitting mandates under the Clean Air Act and other similar federal and state laws could require unexpected capital expenditures. We cannot assure that existing environmental statutes and regulations will not be revised or that new regulations will not be adopted or become applicable to us. Revised or additional statutes or regulations that result in increased compliance costs or additional operating restrictions could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. Our expenditures for environmental investigation and remediation compliance to-date have not been significant in relation to our financial position, results of operations or cash flows, and our expenditures related to environmental matters had no material effects on earnings or cash flows during the three months ended March 31, 2019 and 2018.
We own or retain legal responsibility for certain environmental conditions at 12 former MGP sites in Kansas. These sites contain contaminants generally associated with MGP sites and are subject to control or remediation under various environmental laws and regulations. A consent agreement with the KDHE governs all environmental investigation and remediation work at these sites. The terms of the consent agreement require us to investigate these sites and set remediation activities based upon the results of the investigations and risk analysis. Remediation typically involves the management of contaminated soils and may involve removal of structures and monitoring and/or remediation of groundwater. Regulatory closure has been achieved at three of the 12 sites, but these sites remain subject to potential future requirements that may result in additional costs.
We have completed or are addressing removal of the source of soil contamination at all 12 sites and continue to monitor groundwater at eight of the 12 sites according to plans approved by the KDHE. During the first quarter of 2019, we completed a project to remove a source of contamination and associated contaminated materials at the twelfth site where no active soil remediation had previously occurred. We are also finalizing a study of the feasibility of various options to address the remainder of the site.
With regard to one of our former MGP sites in Kansas, periodic monitoring and a 2016 interim site investigation indicated elevated levels of contaminants generally associated with MGP sites. In 2016, we estimated the potential costs associated with additional investigation and remediation to be in the range of $4.0 million to $7.0 million. We have submitted a remediation plan to the KDHE for this site. The KDHE is currently reviewing our plan. In the second quarter of 2018, we revised our estimate of the potential costs associated with additional investigation and remediation to be in the range of $5.6 million to $7.0 million. A single reliable estimate of the remediation costs was not feasible due to the amount of uncertainty in the ultimate remediation approach that will be utilized. Accordingly, we recorded in the second quarter of 2018 an adjustment to the reserve of $1.6 million bringing the total to $5.6 million for this site, which also increased our regulatory asset pursuant to our AAO in Kansas.
In April 2017, Kansas Gas Service filed an application with the KCC seeking approval of an AAO associated with the costs incurred at, and nearby, these 12 former MGP sites. In October 2017, Kansas Gas Service, the KCC staff and the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board filed a unanimous settlement agreement with the KCC. The agreement allows Kansas Gas Service to defer and seek recovery of costs necessary for investigation and remediation at these sites that are incurred after January 1, 2017, up to a cap of $15.0 million, net of any related insurance recoveries. Costs approved in a future rate proceeding would then be amortized over a 15-year period. The unamortized amounts will not be included in rate base or accumulate carrying charges. At the time future investigation and remediation work, net of any related insurance recoveries, is expected to exceed $15.0 million, Kansas Gas Service will be required to file an application with the KCC for approval to increase the $15.0 million cap. The KCC issued an order approving the settlement agreement in November 2017. A regulatory asset of approximately $5.9 million was recorded for estimated costs that were accrued at January 1, 2017.
We also own or retain legal responsibility for certain environmental conditions at a former MGP site in Texas. At the request of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, we began investigating the level and extent of contamination associated with the site under their Texas Risk Reduction Program. A preliminary site investigation revealed that this site contains contaminants generally associated with MGP sites and is subject to control or remediation under various environmental laws and regulations. Until the investigation is complete, we are unable to determine what, if any, active remediation will be required. A reliable estimate of potential remediation costs is not feasible at this point due to the amount of uncertainty as to the levels and extent of contamination.
Our expenditures for environmental evaluation, mitigation, remediation and compliance to date have not been significant in relation to our financial position, results of operations or cash flows, and our expenditures related to environmental matters had no material effects on earnings or cash flows during the three months ended March 31, 2019 and 2018. A number of environmental issues may exist with respect to MGP sites that are unknown to us. Accordingly, future costs are dependent on the final determination and regulatory approval of any remedial actions, the complexity of the site, level of remediation required, changing technology and governmental regulations, and to the extent not recovered by insurance or recoverable in rates from our customers, could be material to our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows.
We are subject to environmental regulation by federal, state and local authorities. Due to the inherent uncertainties surrounding the development of federal and state environmental laws and regulations, we cannot determine with specificity the impact such laws and regulations may have on our existing and future facilities. With the trend toward stricter standards, greater regulation and more extensive permit requirements for the types of assets operated by us, our environmental expenditures could increase in the future, and such expenditures may not be fully recovered by insurance or recoverable in rates from our customers, and those costs may adversely affect our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows. However, we do not expect expenditures for these matters to have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows.
Pipeline Safety - We are subject to PHMSA regulations, including integrity-management regulations. PHMSA regulations require pipeline companies operating high-pressure transmission pipelines to perform integrity assessments on pipeline segments that pass through densely populated areas or near specifically designated high-consequence areas. In January 2012, the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act was signed into law. The law increased maximum penalties for violating federal pipeline safety regulations and directs the DOT and the Secretary of Transportation to conduct further review or studies on issues that may or may not be material to us. These issues include, but are not limited to, the following:
an evaluation of whether natural gas pipeline integrity-management requirements should be expanded beyond current high-consequence areas;
a verification of records for pipelines in class 3 and 4 locations and high-consequence areas to confirm maximum allowable operating pressures; and
a requirement to test previously untested pipelines operating above 30 percent yield strength in high-consequence areas.
In April 2016, PHMSA published a NPRM, the Safety of Gas Transmission & Gathering Lines Rule, in the Federal Register to revise pipeline safety regulations applicable to the safety of onshore natural gas transmission and gathering pipelines. Proposals include changes to pipeline integrity-management requirements and other safety-related requirements. The NPRM comment period ended July 7, 2016, and comments are under review by PHMSA. As part of the comment review process, PHMSA is being advised by the Technical Pipeline Safety Standards Committee, informally known by PHMSA as the GPAC, a statutorily mandated advisory committee that advises PHMSA on proposed safety policies for natural gas pipelines. The GPAC reviews PHMSA's proposed regulatory initiatives to assure the technical feasibility, reasonableness, cost-effectiveness and practicality of each proposal. The GPAC has met five times since January 2017 to review public comments and make recommendations to PHMSA. The GPAC completed their review of the NPRM on March 28, 2018, except for gas gathering pipelines. The next GPAC meeting, scheduled in June 2019, will focus on gas gathering pipelines. In addition to reviewing public and committee comments, PHMSA announced they will split this NPRM into three separate final rulemakings:
the first final rule will address the legislative mandates from the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Jobs Creation Act and will be called the Safety of Gas Transmission Pipelines: Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure Reconfirmation, Expansion of Assessment Requirements, and Other Related Amendments;
the second final rule will be called the Safety of Gas Transmission Pipelines: Repair Criteria, Integrity Management Improvements, Cathodic Protection, Management of Change, and Other Related Amendments and will cover all remaining elements of the NPRM (except for gas gathering pipelines); and
the third final rule will be called the Safety of Gas Gathering Pipelines and will address gas gathering pipelines.
A significant number of recommendations have been made to PHMSA to improve the NPRM. The industry trade associations filed joint comments to the “legislative mandates” rulemaking to amend the federal safety regulations applicable to gas transmission and gathering pipelines. The timing of each final rule being published is unknown, but they are expected to be published during 2019. The potential capital and operating expenditures associated with compliance with the proposed rules are currently being evaluated and could be significant depending on the final regulations.
Legal Proceedings - We are a party to various litigation matters and claims that have arisen in the normal course of our operations. While the results of litigation and claims cannot be predicted with certainty, we believe the reasonably possible losses from such matters, individually and in the aggregate, are not material. Additionally, we believe the probable final outcome of such matters will not have a material adverse effect on our results of operations, financial position or cash flows.