Aquifer district seeks more answers on proposed pipeline

Lingering questions on how Kinder Morgan’s proposed Permian Highway Pipeline (PHP) could affect local groundwater sources led Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) leaders to withhold judgment Thursday.

While progress was made in gathering information on the project, some district leaders seek more transparency on Kinder Morgan’s part.

That was the crux of an at-times tense presentation by Kinder Morgan to BSEACD officials which covered the scope of the PHP. BSEACD’s board of directors voted 4-0 to postpone a decision on the project and directed its staff to gain more information from Kinder Morgan.

The PHP is a proposed 430-mile underground natural gas pipeline that will go from far west Texas to near Katy. Roughly 31.5 miles of the pipeline will go through Hays County and approximately 67 properties will be impacted.

Allen Fore, Kinder Morgan vice president of public affairs, said there have been 150 routing adjustments made to the PHP so far based on environmental concerns and developments the company is learning about. Fore said Kinder Morgan will continue to make adjustments as they go forward.

However, contention surrounded sharing and collaboration of information between Kinder Morgan and the BSEACD. District officials requested Kinder Morgan release several proposed studies upon completion for the BSEACD staff to review.  That includes a proposed study on karst features and a hazard mitigation plan, which Kinder Morgan officials said are still in progress.

While the project falls under several federal and state regulatory agencies, Kinder Morgan officials said any possible mitigation plans do not have to be submitted to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

Fore said the company supported information sharing, but they wanted to be sure “regulators that are part of the submittal and review process,” as well as their legal staff, were comfortable with doing so.

While the company might have information that could be valuable to the BSEACD, Fore said he had to do “my due diligence on our company and any regulations we have.”

“I don’t think we should get too stuck up on throwing a report on someone’s desk versus people getting on the phone and talking with each other,” Fore said.

Several residents listen and record during the March 14 BSEACD board of directors meeting in Manchaca. (Photo by Moses Leos III)

Mary Stone, BSEACD Pct. 1 director, said she felt the response was a step back for Kinder Morgan to work with the community. While she understood Kinder Morgan’s concerns regarding proprietary information possibly disseminated to the public, Stone said there is a need to collaborate.

Several BSEACD directors cited efforts between the district and state and local officials regarding environmental oversight during State Highway 45 Southwest construction.

“Just because they don’t come to us for a permit doesn’t mean that we don’t collaborate,” Stone said.

Board directors also expressed concern about condensation building up in the pipeline due to temperature changes, and whether it could be toxic if it ever went into the ground.

Angela Williamson, Kinder Morgan project manager, said compressors installed every 100 miles of the pipeline is expected to collect “minor” amounts of condensate. However, Williamson said more research is needed to define the volume of condensate and its chemical composition.

BSEACD leaders also worried about a lack of groundwater monitoring associated with the PHP. Williamson said monitoring isn’t planned as natural gas is “lighter than air.” Fore said Kinder Morgan would have to determine what they would be monitoring for prior to making any decisions.

“Based on what we know and learned over the last several months, this isn’t necessary because of the product,” Fore said.

Other factors discussed included trenching for the pipeline, which is expected to be eight to nine feet deep and five feet wide in most cases, as well what happens following construction.

Kinder Morgan officials said they work with local agriculture extension agencies to determine what vegetation is best to replant.

However, directors still had questions on a variety of issues, including measures Kinder Morgan will take to prevent construction runoff from impacting water sources, as well as the overall construction process.

Kinder Morgan expects to begin construction in October 2019 and finish by November 2020; officials said they anticipate hiring 2,500 workers to build the line.

Kinder Morgan Vice President of Public Affairs Allen Fore (right) speaks to BSEACD board directors March 14. (Photo by Moses Leos III)

Questions were also raised when Fore said evacuation zones around the pipeline in the event of an emergency don’t exist, despite several city and county officials talking about them in recent meetings.

Fore said evacuation procedures are up to emergency responders and any protocols they have. Kinder Morgan sends crews to inspect the line and notify emergency officials if there are any issues. The company also plans to train emergency officials to respond to any issues, Fore said.

However, Stone said progress was made when it came to defining what product will go through the pipeline. Fore said Kinder Morgan plans to include language in landowner agreements that specifies only natural gas will be transported.

Previous contracts stated a variety of products could go through the PHP, which Fore said was a standard agreement.

Fore said the change was made to add an “extra level of assurance” of the product in the line. He added the company should have had “natural gas on there first” in retrospect. Stone said she was pleased to see Kinder Morgan commit to that in writing.

“I hope folks are seeing some tangible steps in response to what we’ve been hearing,” Fore said.

Kinder Morgan’s hiring of Campbell White, who had worked on the SH45SW project, as a karst feature specialist was a benefit, Stone said.

“We know this area better than anybody and we want to be part of it and we want to help protect it,” Stone said.

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