Questions over the process of companies building infrastructure on privately-owned land is leading a local lawmaker to propose possible changes at the state level.
Earlier this week, State Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) authored House Bill (HB) 2277, which could require an environmental assessment prior to the construction of natural gas pipelines.
The proposed legislation could be the first of a handful of bills that would increase public oversight on the construction of pipelines throughout the state.
“These are projects by private corporations with the power of eminent domain by the state,” Zwiener said. “I am concerned about the complete lack of oversight by the state. If these companies have the power of the state, there must be more oversight.”
Zwiener’s bill is directly linked to Kinder Morgan’s proposed Permian Highway Pipeline, which is slated to cut through a majority of the Hill Country, including through Hays County.
In Texas, energy-infrastructure companies are allowed the power of eminent domain with common carrier status. To be considered a common carrier, the company would have to contract with other entities to transport natural gas. Common carrier ensures the pipeline will transport a resource for the common good of the public.
Energy companies are currently required to submit a T-4 form to the Texas Railroad Commission stating the pipeline is a common carrier. However, the process does not involve oversight or approval from the TRC.
Zwiener said she questions the ability of a private corporation to adequately undergo an environmental study at its own discretion.
“It’s a fox guarding the hen house,” Zwiener said. “(Kinder Morgan) has no financial incentive to do a thorough environmental assessment. And if they have conducted one, has any member of the public seen those documents?”
The bill states an analysis must be completed to identify potential harms or impacts to endangered and threatened species, air and water quality, aquifers, and historic, cultural and archaeological sites.
That analysis would then be submitted in writing to the Texas Railroad Commission for approval.
“This is one step that is very important that comes before a host of other bills in regard to pipelines,” Zwiener said. “These decisions should not be made in the seclusion of a corporate board room. Building large infrastructure will always be a challenge for the well-being of the entire state, but those decisions need to be made in the light of day.”
For Kyle residents, Zwiener said Kinder Morgan’s pipeline poses a public safety risk. Hundreds of houses on the east side of Interstate 35 are in the evacuation zone.
This would require city and county services to be prepared in the case of an explosion, an investment in time and resources.
There may be a bill in the near future that would establish a public process for the routing of pipelines, Zwiener said.
In addition to the environment, the economic impacts to the county are still unseen.
“There is no way you can put a pipeline between San Antonio and Austin without negatively affecting the value of future development,” she said. “I understand Kinder Morgan will pay property taxes for the easements, but in no way will this equal the potential value of that land.