Energy giant Kinder Morgan called a federal lawsuit filed by two Hays County groups last week “unfounded and without merit.” The lawsuit accuses the company of violating the Safe Drinking Water Act during construction of its Permian Highway Pipeline (PHP), a 430-mile natural gas pipeline that is carving its way through the heart of the Texas Hill Country.
Litigants allege that carcinogens were among the substances introduced into a karst feature fractured on March 28 as a contractor was attempting the first of two planned bores under the Blanco River.
The accident resulted in 36,000 gallons of drilling mud containing AMC Gel going into the aquifer and surrounding wells, including that owned by Teri Albright and her husband, both of whom are physicians.
Tests on the well water also revealed the presence of arsenic, representatives of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association (WVWA) and Trinity Edward Springs Protection Association (TESPA) said at a press conference announcing the lawsuit.
However, Kinder Morgan said those substances, including light and heavy metals, “naturally exist in the very earth that this groundwater is flowing through, and they are naturally present there at levels that are orders of magnitude higher than the concentrations present in the drilling mud used at the Blanco River site,” the company said in a statement.
The company also maintains that AMC Gel, “commonly referred to as Bentonite, is certified safe and appropriate by the international standards authority NSF International for use in drilling water wells.”
The Safety Data sheet, though, identifies AMC as a Category 1A carcinogen that, with repeated exposure, can decrease organ function.
Albright and her husband still cannot use the water from their taps and instead are paying more than $1,000 each month for a temporary water tank. They also had to replace water heaters and filtration systems.
The Albright’s property is in Blanco County in a karst-rich region that stretches all the way to Kyle. The route of the 42-inch PHP crosses the Blanco in one other location, plus numerous smaller streams that must also be bored under.
Construction was halted at the site of the March 28 karst fracture. Drilling activities remain suspended, Kinder Morgan says, “as we evaluate alternative measures for crossing the river.” Previously, the company had said it would rely on its “karst experts” for a way to mitigate the situation.
The company noted that, “Other construction activities on the pipeline and compressor stations are continuing as planned and we are over 65 percent mechanically complete on the entire project. We have been in close contact with concerned landowners to address their needs, offering food, clean water and other accommodations,” the statement said.
“We continue to work in close coordination with the appropriate agencies including the Texas Railroad Commission as we work to complete this much-needed infrastructure project,” it concluded.
The lawsuit asks that the company reroute the pipeline and discontinue the use of AMC Gel.
The PHP has drawn intense opposition since Kinder Morgan first began approaching landowners in the fall of 2018, with its route the main point of contention. The WVWA, TESPA and others have said the environmentally-sensitive Hill Country is the wrong location for such a project, and have questioned Kinder Morgan’s claim that it is “much-needed infrastructure,” in part because a portion of the natural gas it will convey is intended for export, not domestic use.
The opposition has brought together environmentalists and proponents of private property rights, two groups that are often at odds.