Water district joins in fight against natural gas pipeline

A small but determined group of opponents to Kinder Morgan’s Permian Highway Pipeline gathered in downtown Kyle for the first of two protests last week.

Carrying signs that said “Safe pipelines don’t exist” and “Clean energy now,” they encouraged passing motorists to honk their support, and many did as they passed the corner of Center and Burleson.

At issue is the routing of the 42-inch, natural gas pipeline through some of the most environmentally-sensitive areas of the Texas Hill Country, putting in jeopardy the Edwards and Trinity aquifers, all the springs they produce and species they support.

The latest salvo in the ongoing war between the company, landowners, environmental groups and governmental entities came Jan. 16, when the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) voted to join a lawsuit against Kinder Morgan, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) that alleges violations of the Endangered Species Act.

Specifically, the legal action argues there “is not a reasonable assurance that the aquifers will be protected during the construction and operation of the pipeline.”

The project has met with stiff opposition ever since the energy giant began approaching Central Texas landowners in late 2018. Because they are considered infrastructure, pipelines companies have the power of eminent domain. Because it is completely within the state of Texas, the project does not require approval from any state agency except the Railroad Commission.

Plaintiffs in the suit say the actions of Kinder Morgan – which has already begun construction at the west end of the pipeline – is “attempting to avoid” steps including obtaining a biological opinion from USFWS, the preparation of an incidental take permit and the creation of a habitat conservation plan, “both of which are called for when any action – direct or indirect – presents a signifiant threat to a species or its habitat in wetlands under the USACE’s jurisdiction as well as in uplands on private lands.”

“Kinder Morgan has avoided review of the pipeline by appropriate environmental agencies and vetting by the public,” said Blayne Stansberry, president of the BSEACD Board of Directors. “Without these processes, we cannot ensure construction and operation of the pipeline will be reasonably protective of our water resources. If the water that supplies the Interstate 35 corridor in Hays County is negatively impacted by the pipeline, the economic and environmental impacts would be disastrous.”

The district noted that species listed in the Endangered Species Act are “granted certain protections” from development. Among others, the pipeline’s route crosses through the habitat of endangered salamanders and songbirds.

Allen Fore, a Kinder Morgan vice president who has been the face of the company in much of Central Texas, said on Jan. 8 that the project is proceeding. The company is “still anticipating construction beginning in Hays County” during the first quarter of this year “pending regulatory approval” but also noted that construction has not yet reached Blanco County either.

When complete, the pipeline would carry natural gas from the oilfields of west Texas to the Houston area.

Last year, the city of Kyle and other entities filed suit challenging Kinder Morgan’s right of eminent domain, but the action was dismissed by a judge. Kyle later settled another suit with the company, the terms of which call for Kinder Morgan paying the city $2.7 million and protecting the city from incurring any undue financial burden caused by the pipeline on existing infrastructure. The settlement also required Kinder Morgan to participate in the alleviation of conflicts between the pipeline and future infrastructure projects within Kyle.

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