Pipeline bill survives first hearing

A proposed bill aimed at requiring the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to implement contingency protocols for pipelines survived its first committee hearing Tuesday.

House Bill 3324, authored by Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood), is in direct response to the proposed 42-inch natural gas pipeline by Kinder Morgan, which will cut through a major portion of the Hill Country and Hays County. HB 3324 was taken up by the Texas House Committee on Natural Resources.

“At its core, HB 3224 is a public health bill,” Zwiener said. “Large transmission pipelines cross Texas, and as the industry acknowledges, it’s not a question of if they leak, it’s a question of when.”

The bill would require TCEQ to create rules outlining specific contingency plans to control, collect and contain any discharge of fluids of a pipeline.

Zwiener argued she is not against the oil and gas industry, but is fighting for more oversight on the construction of pipelines.

Zwiener said natural gas pipelines contain substances that can be detrimental to groundwater and human health. This includes benzene, which can cause leukemia and complications with bone development in pregnant women.

The bill would give TCEQ additional oversight on safety concerns associated with the construction of pipelines. Zwiener said the Texas Railroad Commission (TRC) does not have much oversight, and that authority should be given to TCEQ.

However, the bill wasn’t popular among pipeline activists.

Celina Romero, an attorney with Duggins Wren Mann & Romero LLP, spoke on behalf of the Texas Pipeline Association, scrutinizing the bill as “redundant” and “inconsistent.”

Romero argued that the federal Pipeline and Hazard Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) outlines nationwide regulations for the safety of pipelines, including maintenance and emergency response.

Romero said Kinder Morgan is processing treated natural gas, or dry gas. Methane is lighter than air, where a leak would rise to the atmosphere, likely not affecting groundwater, Romero said.

“Our bottom line, we feel as if though there are other robust regulation programs that already exist that safeguard against pipelines that Rep. Zwiener or this bill is addressing,” Romero said.

However, State Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos (D-Richardson), who is on the Natural Resources Committee, disagreed with Romero’s testimony.

Ramos argued HB 3324 does not go beyond what is necessary to protect the public’s health.

“Which is why it shouldn’t be a problem to implement a contingency plan to do that,” Ramos said. “And when you say it goes beyond (what is necessary), it just means we have higher standards.”

Natural Resources Committee member and State Rep. Tracy King (D-Batesville) said pipeline companies intentionally build infrastructure through places like Maverick County (Eagle Pass) to avoid aquifer recharge and contributing zones in the Hill Country.

Linda K. Rogers, president of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD), who supported the bill, said the many conversations she’s had
with Kinder Morgan representatives have not alleviated her concerns.

“Without a contingency plan to address spills, there are extreme concerns with the groundwater district,” Rogers said.

Rogers said the construction of the pipeline and condensation from the natural gas could damage the sensitive karst geological features of the Hill Country. Rogers said the bill is a good first step to address a list of concerns with a pipeline through environmentally sensitive land.

Zwiener said there are no procedures to mitigate construction of a pipeline under karst features. Additionally, Zwiener said the bill will add additional safety measures for people and the environment of the Hill Country.

“We are being asked to trust,” Zwiener said. “We are being given very little verification and that’s the struggle. I’m all for trust, but I need the verification.”

The bill was left pending by the Natural Resources Committee.

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