Permian Highway Pipeline stalled at Blanco drilling site, but not elsewhere in the Hill Country

Hays

Neighbors in Gillespie County worry about another accident

FREDERICKSBURG, Texas (KXAN) — Kinder Morgan says it has stopped all work at a drilling site in the Blanco River, after an accident two weeks ago contaminated nearby wells with chemicals.

But construction is still underway in other parts of the Hill Country.

“We don’t understand any of it,” says Carrie Jo Baethge whose family owns hundreds of acres in Fredericksburg.

When Baethge saw Kinder Morgan crews working on her family’s property last Thursday, concern set in.

“Everything should have stopped immediately. Immediately,” she says.

Her family is being compensated for the access to their land but Baethge thought the work would stop after the pipeline company admitted to the accident roughly 40 minutes east of her in Blanco, which spilled about 36,000 gallons of drilling fluid into the area.

Blanco County neighbors said it sent sludge into their well-water.

The groundwater conservation district manager conducted tests and says the liquid contains two potentially cancer-causing chemicals — but they’re only toxic when inhaled.

Kinder Morgan says the liquid is not harmful.

Blanco County landowner Teresa Albright says she turned on her tap to discover muddy water. She later learned it was due to Kinder Morgan’s drilling accident. (Courtesy/Teresa Albright)

“The drilling fluid is not classified as being harmful if ingested and poses no known risks to drinking water. It is also used to drill drinking water wells,” the company said in an emailed statement to KXAN.

Neil Carman, a chemist with the Sierra Club’s Lone Star chapter, calls that response “disingenuous.”

“Although they say the risk is very low, that may be true but I view any risk as unacceptable,” Carman says.

He says the elderly or those with compromised lungs would be especially at risk.

“As long as it’s wet, it’s less of a hazard but if people have this coming out of their taps or whatever and it dries, there is a potential for some low-level inhalation,” Carman says.

It’s a hazard Baethge doesn’t want in her home.

“We, the landowners, want them shut down. It’s our right. You’re not taking care of business like you said you were, you can’t be trusted, then you need to be shut down,” she says.

“Our water’s it, this is it.”

Read Kinder Morgan’s full response to this story below:

The Permian Highway Pipeline (PHP) experienced an underground drilling fluid loss of approximately 36,000 gallons during construction in Blanco County, Texas in late March. The drilling fluid is composed of water mixed primarily with bentonite clay and sand. Bentonite is a naturally occurring, non-hazardous, non-toxic clay. The drilling fluid is not classified as being harmful if ingested and poses no known risks to drinking water. It is also used to drill drinking water wells.

We strive for zero incidents and minimal environmental impact on all of our construction projects. At this time, drilling operations have been suspended at the Blanco Horizontal Directional Drill (HDD) site while the team evaluates the cause of the loss and determines the best path forward. Other construction activities on the pipeline and compressor stations are continuing as planned. We are working with the four impacted landowners/tenants to address their needs, offering food, clean water and other accommodations. We are also consulting with Karst and drilling experts as well as the local water district manager to determine the best way to mitigate any current and future impacts. All of the appropriate regulatory agencies have been notified.  We will continue to work with landowners and tenants to address their needs until this situation is fully resolved.

Intent to sue

Last week, two local advocacy groups issued a notice of intent to sue Kinder Morgan over the Blanco County drilling accident.

The Trinity Edwards Springs Protection Association and Wimberley Valley Watershed Association are bringing four allegations against the Permian Highway Pipeline, including violating the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

The groups’ attorneys say Kinder Morgan has 60 days to respond.

Although there are other lawsuits pending, there are no court orders to block construction from continuing at this point.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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