FLORENCE, Texas (KXAN) — A new oil and gas pipeline is coming to the Lone Star State and plans show part of it could run through Central Texas.
The more than 400-mile-long Matterhorn Express Pipeline will stretch across Texas and could run through Travis, Williamson, Lampasas, Burnet, Lee and San Saba counties. WhiteWater Midstream is the Austin-based company behind the project.
“The project will play a significant role in enhancing energy security, reducing energy costs, and mitigating emissions related to flaring by providing much-needed takeaway capacity for West Texas producers. This will ultimately expand markets for Texas energy and support Texas jobs,” WhiteWater Midstream said in a statement.
It added, “We are committed to being good neighbors and incorporating feedback from all relevant stakeholders into both the proposed route and the project’s overall design.”
Still, some landowners are worried about what this pipeline project could mean for the future of their property.
The future of Panahi Ranch
David Panahi was sitting at home with his wife last Wednesday night when he got a knock on the door.
“About seven o’clock at night I hear a clanking on our door and then I go out,” he said.
That Wednesday knock ended with Panahi being served a petition for a temporary restraining order and injunction relief.
“You get served on Wednesday and then the hearing is the next Thursday… was crazy,” he added.
If the petition is granted, Panahi will have to allow his Florence land to be surveyed for the Matterhorn Express Pipeline that the Railroad Commission just approved a permit for at the end of March.
Panahi bought the roughly 150 acres about a decade ago in the hopes of giving his dad a peaceful place to spend his retirement.
“My dad escaped Russian-controlled Azerbaijan, where over there you hear about things like ‘the government seizes your land, pollutes the Caspian Sea,’ all that,” Panahi said. “One of my dad’s dreams was to go live somewhere [in] his retirement… beautiful without pollution and all that. He was kind of pretty sad when I found out about all this pipeline business.”
His goal is to keep the land as it is currently saying, “It’s beautiful Hill Country views.”
“It’s over the Trinity Aquifer so, when we got that area they said, ‘Hey, this is the best area — the Trinity Aquifer here in Burnet County — there’s a creek there. It has a couple of ponds.’ It was a really pretty area and, even though a lot of hard work, I didn’t want anybody to make a mess out there so we even got the mineral rights out there,” Panahi explained. “Not that we want to drill for gas, but I didn’t want anybody to, like, ruin the area”
Now with the pipeline project in motion, Panahi is concerned about what the future of the land will be — beyond how the pipeline will affect the natural area and what will happen to property values.
“The main thing, when we got that area, and my dad retired, we just wanted to keep it beautiful Hill Country and peaceful.”
WhiteWater Midstream told KXAN “The Matterhorn project has been designed with careful consideration of the environment and the communities along the proposed route.”
Panahi, who is also a dentist, said he planned to use the land as a donation-based wedding location, with proceeds funding his new nonprofit Smile Ministries to help Central Texans who cannot afford dental care.
“Who is going to have a wedding if there’s like, ‘Caution, pipeline?'” he said.
What rights do landowners have?
Attorney Philip Hundl who focuses on Eminent Domain Condemnation cases said landowners have options.
“Number one, take action. Don’t disregard it,” Hundl said. “First, getting legal representation from someone that understands eminent domain condemnation proceedings, that’s important, but also just reaching out to the other lawyer on the other side, even you just the landowner, a non-lawyer and say, ‘You know, I’ve got these papers and the date doesn’t work for me. Give me more time, I’m looking for an attorney.’ At least do that, because you’ve made contact, and hopefully the lawyers on the other side, for Matterhorn will take that into consideration, and be flexible and work with you on some dates, if that’s necessary, ultimately.”
Hundl said while he encourages people to find legal representation he understands not everyone can afford to. He said, in that case, people should educate themselves as much as they can online.
“Knowing more about the process, understanding the process, is going to give them a lot more comfort and reduce their stress level,” Hundl said. “Emotions are high. So many of these properties that are being affected have been in families for generations, and now it’s being affected. And landowners, their plans that they’ve had for these properties of building a home on this ideal homesite on the property, all of a sudden, they find out that’s where the pipeline is going to go, or at least the proposed pipeline route. I mean, it’s extremely emotional.”
Why do we rely on pipelines?
The Deputy Director of the Energy Division at the University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology Mark Shuster said there is a reason companies rely on pipelines versus transporting oil and gas via trucks and/or by train.
“At the highest level, they’re simply the most cost-effective, and the safest way to move, oil and gas from where the oil and gas are produced to where it’s going to be used or for the process or products,” he explained.
Shuster, who has decades of experience in the oil and gas industry, said there are over 2.4 million miles of natural gas pipelines in the U.S. and over 190,000 miles of onshore and offshore oil pipelines.
“The pipelines serve a very important purpose to be able to move these commodities, oil and gas, to where they’re going to be utilized,” Shuster said. “Particularly in Texas, there are 11.5 million barrels of oil that are produced across the U.S., but five million barrels are coming from the Permian Basin and that five million barrels of oil needs to go to refiners or petrochemical manufacturing facilities, along the Gulf Coast or elsewhere in Texas.”