Bomb squad neutralizes device found at pipeline site

By Anita Miller

A “suspicious device” that was later neutralized by a bomb squad is the latest incident to have occurred at work sites along the route of the Permian Highway Pipeline (PHP), Kinder Morgan’s natural gas conduit being carved through the heart of the Texas Hill Country. 

Company Vice President Allen Fore told the Hays Free Press that work in the immediate vicinity was halted after a contractor discovered the device at a work site in Blanco County on Tuesday, Sept. 1. 

“We are thankful for the quick response of local law enforcement, and we are assisting in the ongoing investigation into this criminal activity,” Fore said.

He said the area was cleared and state, local and federal law enforcement agencies are managing the response. 

DPS Sgt. Deon Cockrell, who Fore directed future media inquiries to, said residents in the immediate area were moved “to a safe location” and others outside the immediate area were asked to shelter in place. Local roads were also closed, Cockrell said. Residents were allowed back in beginning at around 6 p.m.

Cockrell said law enforcement agencies who responded to the site on Chimney Valley Road included the Blanco County Sheriff’s Office & Emergency Services, DPS, FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). 

He was unsure which agency supplied the bomb squad but that its mission was successful. “The device was neutralized and poses no threat to the community,” Cockrell said in an email. 

On Friday, Fore said full construction at the site had resumed. “PHP will continue to work with law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute any individuals who are discovered to be threatening the safety or security of our employees and crews,” he said.

Since work on the pipeline began early this year, several incidents have been reported, beginning with a fire in a mulching machine in Blanco County on Feb. 25.

Approximately 15 firefighters brought it under control in about two hours and kept it from spreading beyond the machine.

Then on March 28, a contractor attempting the first of two planned bores under the Blanco River hit a karst feature, which sent tens of thousands of gallons of drilling mud into the Trinity Aquifer and fouled nearby water wells.

Work still has not resumed at that site near Chimney Rock Road in Blanco County, and Kinder Morgan, without providing details, has said it will detour the initial route in order to avoid the Blanco River.

That mishap spurred a number of lawsuits, one alleging in federal court that the Clean Water Act had been violated. Another accuses the project of violations of the Endangered Species Act.

Additionally, in the wake of the karst feature fracture, Hays County rescinded permission for the company to cross any more county roads unless certain conditions were met. The Commissioners Court has since restored those permission.

In May, another contractor punctured a water line owned by the San Antonio Water System. The Vista Ridge pipeline runs from San Antonio to Burleson and had only been in operation for a little over a week when the rupture occurred.

And in June, a flash flood swept a radioactive camera box down the Pedernales River in Gillespie County. According to the company that owned the “mobile darkroom” that was in the lead box, it had “released” from a pickup truck hit by the floodwaters. Two workers were rescued by the Gillespie County Fire Department.

The pipeline has also drawn condemnation for allowing runoff from springtime rains to leave work sites.

The PHP has been controversial since landowners were first approached by Kinder Morgan in the fall of 2018, with concerns uniting property rights activists and environmentalists in an unlike coalition. They have argued the the karst-rich hill country is no place for a pipeline, and have urged the company to reroute away from springs systems that supply fresh water for man and livestock all the way to the Gulf Coast.

The 42-inch pipeline runs 430 miles from the oil fields of West Texas to near Houston, where at least some of the product is bound for export. 

Because it is considered infrastructure, the only state agency it needed to acquire permits from was the Texas Railroad Commission, and the RRC does not consider environmental concerns in its permitting process. Also because it is infrastructure, the company had the power of eminent domain to acquire right-of-way against the wishes of landowners. 

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