Land ownership, environment concerns surround Hill Country pipeline

Austin

AUSTIN — Texas has more than 440,000 miles — yes, miles — of pipelines running across the state. According to the Rail Road Commission, that’s one-sixth of all the pipelines in the United States. 

So what harm could one more pipeline do? 

Plenty, depending on who you ask. 

In a rare sit-down interview, the builders of a controversial natural gas pipeline slated to run near the Austin metro area talked about the project and addressed land ownership and environmental concerns

Kinder Morgan announced plans to build a natural gas pipeline that will pump the gas from west Texas (specifically, the Waha Hub near Fort Stockton) to an area near Katy, Texas (outside Houston). 

The gas would only add to America’s emerging dominance in the energy sector, but the route could pose a huge danger to environmentally-sensitive areas in Texas. 

The route of the pipeline would have to go through parts of the Hill Country. One rendering of the route provided by Kinder Morgan has the pipeline going over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. The Recharge Zone is where the underground aquifer that supplies the City of San Antonio’s drinking water gets replenished naturally from rain and river flow. 

“We have made many many adjustments to avoid sedative wetlands, forested areas, publicly identifiable areas of the Hill Country that are clearly areas of environmental concern that need to be avoided… but we can’t avoid all of them,” says Allen Fore, VP of public affairs for Kinder Morgan. 

“If it’s not possible to avoid [environmental] impact, then you work on how to mitigate those impacts.”

In response, the Hill Country Alliance, a non-profit environmental advocacy group said in a statement: 

“The Hill Country Alliance has serious concerns about a 42-inch pipeline being routed across one of the most ecologically unique places in all of Texas. With thousands of springs, the headwaters of 12 rivers, dozens of endangered and threatened species, and sensitive aquifers like the Edwards that provide drinking water to millions of Texans, the Hill Country truly is the heart of our state. Any proposed project that could potentially impact those resources should be rigorously evaluated. In a routing process that seems to lack transparency, oversight, and is unfairly weighted toward the benefit of private companies, we will be working to ensure landowners are aware of their rights and the resources available to protect the natural resources we all, as Texans, benefit from.”


The concern has merit. 

One quick search on the National Transportation And Safety Boards website and one can find more than 130 pipeline accidents recorded since 2014. 

“It’s often and external influence… in other words, something hits the line that causes the issue,” said Fore. 

The concern about land ownership issues raised by the alliance also had merit. 

Fore touted his company’s 90 percent success rate in closing land deals to make pipelines happen. Still, KXAN asked Fore if eminent domain could be used for a private company to build a pipeline. 

“At the end of the day, if there is an inability to move the pipeline to another place, other landowners have signed up, we’ve reached that 90 percent… at some point there has to be a finality to this process,” Fore said.

If all goes to plan, that could start by Fall of 2019 and wrap up one year after. 

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