More charges fly in pipeline protest

More salvos were fired last week in the ongoing fight between Hill Country landowners, environmentalists and energy giant Kinder Morgan.

The Wimberley Valley Watershed Association (WVWA) and the Trinity Edwards Springs Protection Association (TESPA) have jointly threatened to sue Kinder Morgan after the company’s contractors breached a karst feature March 28 during construction of the Permian Highway Pipeline (PHP), which fouled nearby wells.

The groups contend the Texas Hill Country is too full of sensitive features to make it a safe place to put a portion of the 430-mile, 42-inch natural gas pipeline and that the breach resulted in 36,000 gallons of drilling mud and fluid going into the Trinity Aquifer.

On April 15, the groups said tests from water from two nearby wells sent to the Lower Colorado River Authority laboratory in Austin showed trace metals in concentrations that exceed EPA standards for drinking water. They also said that six of the substances found are classified as Class A carcinogens (aluminum, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium and nickel), though none of them have been identified as “single-exposure threats to human health.”

The groups jointly quoted from a report compiled by former USGS hydrologist Robert Slade.

Kinder Morgan issued its own statement April 16, calling the analysis “misleading, alarmist and riddled with inaccuracies,” including using “the wrong units” in establishing chemical concentrations, and that many of the chemicals are “naturally occurring” in the area.

Moreover, the company accused the groups, which submitted Slade’s report to the Texas Railroad Commission
(RRC), of political motivations. “It is clear they are misrepresenting the data in order to scare the public and further their efforts to stop this project,” the KM statement said.

There is already a lawsuit claiming Kinder Morgan has violated the Endangered Species Act and provisions of the Clean Water Act. Because pipelines are considered infrastructure, Kinder Morgan was only required
to get approval for the project from the RRC, which does not factor environmental review as part of its approval process. Also because it is considered infrastructure, the company was able to use eminent domain to acquire land along the pipeline’s projected path over the objections of the landowners.

“Kinder Morgan was given the green light by our regulatory agencies, and that light needs to become a big red light,” Patrick Cox of TESPA said. “It should be clear to all involved that this pipeline should be stopped until a better route or way forward is found.”

David Baker of WVWA said there is “no doubt” that contamination has occurred and that “even basic construction of this pipeline in the karst aquifers of the Texas Hill Country is not safe for homeowners reliant on groundwater along the current pipeline route. Kinder Morgan has other options, but the landowners do not have other options for their water supply.”

Kinder Morgan, which said it has taken water to those affected well owners, said the company is “coordinating closely with the Texas Railroad Commission on our investigation and mitigation efforts. We will continue to work with landowners to address their needs until this situation is fully resolved.”

Work was halted at the site of the contamination along the Blanco River near Chimney Rock Road in Blanco County, but has proceeded elsewhere along the pipeline route.

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