The ongoing battle over Kinder Morgan’s proposed Permian Highway Pipeline (PHP) took a turn last week when the Houston-based energy firm filed litigation against Kyle.
Basis for the lawsuit, filed July 21 at the U.S. District Court in Austin, stems from Kyle’s pipeline safety ordinance that was approved by its city council in May. Among other contingencies, the new rules would require the PHP to be buried some 15 feet underground in some areas.
Kinder Morgan officials argue that the ordinance is illegal, citing the National Pipeline Safety Act and state law take priority over local ordinances and regulations.
Along with setback obligations, the ordinance requires a pipeline inspection to be available on a 24-hour basis and various fees are to be paid by the pipeline company.
The lawsuit is another chapter in the highly contested case against the PHP, 420-mile underground natural gas pipeline that’s been at the center of controversy. In recent weeks, Hays County officials filed a notice of intent to file a second lawsuit against Kinder Morgan, calling for more environmental studies to be conducted.
In June, a Travis County District judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by property owners, Kyle and Hays County against Kinder Morgan and the Texas Railroad Commission seeking more oversight on the eminent domain process. Kinder Morgan’s lawsuit against Kyle is the first instance of the firm countering measures taken by governmental entities.
Kyle Mayor Travis Mitchell defended the ordinance, calling it a legitimate piece of city law.
“We based our ordinance on many municipalities throughout the region and their ordinances regarding pipelines,” Mitchell said. “In our opinion, we have a lot of precedent to base what we did.”
The city is working on a response to the lawsuit.
“The truth is, Kinder Morgan is seeking any and every way to put this pipeline through Kyle without any input from the city,” Mitchell said. “We’re trying to hold them accountable the way we hold other developers and development in our community.”
Mitchell said the city is working to protect its residents from any potential dangers posed by the pipeline.
Mitchell cited recent natural gas pipeline incidents within the town in recent weeks as proof of the need for the ordinance. A natural gas pipeline along the route of improvements on Burleson Street has been ruptured twice so far, despite being marked and buried more than 5 feet deep.
“This idea of burying the pipeline deeper is reasonable,” Mitchell said.
But Kinder Morgan has a different take on the city’s ordinance, looking at state and federal statute as a defense to the project.
“The crux of the issue here is that the state and the federal government have extensive rules and regulations regarding the oversight of pipeline infrastructure in the state of Texas,” said Kinder Morgan VP of Public Affairs Allen Fore. “It’s in their purview to make decisions regarding the specifics of pipeline safety…It’s not the city of Kyle’s purview.”
Despite the number of lawsuits that have been filed over the pipeline, Fore said the ultimate goal is to work with the various cities, counties and residents to find common ground.
Fore said he had a lot of respect for Mitchell and hopes the two entities can address specific concerns on the project.
Kinder Morgan currently has 26,000 miles of pipeline through hundreds of communities and counties in the state, including pipelines in the Hill Country.
“It’s a long-established process by the state and federal government, and we’re proposing to build another project,” Fore said. “It’s consistent with our practices that have been in service for generations. Folks don’t know there are pipelines in Hays County, but there are.”
Fore said the project is consistent with safety, environmental and individual consultation standards.
But the city of Kyle is continuing the fight against the pipeline. Mitchell disagrees with the notion that the city has been involved with the process from the beginning.
“It’s frustrating to have this back and forth dispute,” Mitchell said. “It would have been much better if they approached us from the very beginning to understand how this would impact us. They never did that and showed no interest in working with us.”