By Anita Miller
Another allegation against Kinder Morgan’s Permian Highway Pipeline has been raised, this time by the Sierra Club and, once again, the energy giant has refuted the claim.
On Monday, July 27, Gabby Brown of the Sierra Club cited local landowners in reporting a spill of drilling fluid that occurred while contractors for the natural gas pipeline were attempting to bore under the Pedernales River.
On March 28, a contractor for the pipeline hit a karst feature while trying to bore under the Blanco River in Blanco County, which dumped 36,000 gallons of drilling fluid into the Trinity Aquifer and fouled nearby water wells. Work at that site is still halted as the company has said it is studying how to best mitigate the damage.
A lawsuit alleging the incident violated the federal Clean Water Act was subsequently filed by the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association (WVWA) and the Trinity Edwards Springs Protection Association (TESPA). Additionally, Hays County barred Kinder Morgan from crossing any county roads until an agreement for mitigation is reached.
“Impacted landowners still do not have clean water in their homes,” Brown said of the March 28 incident near Chimney Rock Road. “The company has had multiple spills and violations over the course of construction of the controversial pipeline.”
Regarding the Pedernales River incident, Lexie Long, a Kinder Morgan corporate communication specialist, called the Sierra Club’s description wrong.
Long said the Pedernales incident was not significant, and amounted to “ponding or spilling of drilling fluids on the ground” that she said is “common in the construction of all (similar) operations, particularly at the start and end of a drill near the ground surface.”
Because it is an intra-state project, the only agency required to sign off on the project was the Railroad Commission and because the pipeline is considered infrastructure, Kinder Morgan has the power of eminent domain to acquire right-of-way along its 430-mile course against landowner objections.
Regarding the March 28 incident, Long said that while the wells had a “temporary period of elevated suspended solid,” the current water quality is “generally representative of what is historically common for the area.”
She countered complaints of erosion with the fact that “silt fences and other erosion control devices” have been installed along the right-of-way. Such controls have proven effective, Long said, ”but admitted they had been defeated by “extraordinary rainfall” that had occurred, adding that the Railroad Commission was satisfied with the effort.
The Sierra Club said it will challenge the approval of the project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) “without first providing for public participation or conducting the environmental analysis required by the National Environmental Policy Act.” The organization has filed a motion urging the U.S District Court for the Western District of Texas to halt construction of the pipeline, which is routed to cross 29 waterways “unless and until the Corps complies with NEPA.” A hearing is scheduled Friday in Austin.
“Kinder Morgan has repeatedly made it clear that they can’t be trusted to safely build this pipeline through vulnerable water resources, and it’s shameful that state and national agencies have given them a free pass to go ahead without scrutiny or public input,” said Roddy Hughes of the Sierra Club. “This latest incident is further proof that the Permian Highway Pipeline poses a grave threat to Texas communities and waterways. The Texas Railroad Commission must act to protect them by shutting down construction on this dangerous pipeline immediately.”
Long said construction activities “have progressed remarkably well, especially during a historic pandemic. He said the project is “80% mechanically complete.”