By David Baker, Executive Director of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association
Op-ed for the San Antonio Express-News
July 15, 2019
It’s more than ironic that Allen Fore, Kinder Morgan’s vice president of public affairs, began a recent op-ed (“Pipeline safest way to move gas,” Friday, July 5) about the Permian Highway Pipeline with a reference to fake news.
Given the fact that Kinder Morgan is less than forthcoming with the public about the specifics of the Permian Highway Pipeline, it’s hard to sort through all of Kinder Morgan’s statements about the project and whether those are fact or fiction.
To be blunt, Fore’s op-ed certainly had its share of misinformation, starting with the following:
1. Plenty of other pipeline companies have created existing pipeline corridors to the north and the south of the Hill Country, which do not go through the vulnerable karst aquifers and watersheds, and the Blanco and Pedernales Rivers.
2. Existing pipeline infrastructure that has been laid in the Hill Country — much of it installed decades ago — is anywhere from 50 to 75 percent smaller than the 42-inch mega-pipeline that Kinder Morgan wants to lay on Central Texas’ porous karst limestone.
3. Allen may be right in saying that “there is no safer way to move natural gas” out from the Permian Basin. But safe, safer and safest are three very different things. Take Kinder Morgan’s 2018 annual report, for instance. There, in fine print, Kinder Morgan lays out the risks to investors: “There are a variety of hazards and operating risks inherent to the transportation and storage of the products we handle. … The occurrence of any of these risks could result in serious injury and loss of human life, significant damage to property and natural resources, environmental pollution.”
4. Given all those risks, Kinder Morgan really shouldn’t brag about its “safe” pipeline record. Even if a pipeline leak or spill is a rare occurrence, it’s still an occurrence with catastrophic consequences. Using data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Kinder Morgan and its subsidiaries have 1.8 pipeline incidents for every 100 miles of pipeline. Put those risks into the karst aquifers and watersheds, where the water is an interconnected, fast-moving system, any pipeline leak or spill will be nearly impossible to mitigate.
5. While Kinder Morgan says it “will” work with karst experts and groundwater conservation districts on the Permian Highway Pipeline, it sure is loath to disclose the findings from said experts or its own mitigation and prevention plans.
After all, it was back in March, after an unsatisfactory Kinder Morgan presentation, that the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District wrote Fore with a list of 18 questions about the Permian Highway Pipeline.
Given the gravity of the project on the Texas Hill Country and the drinking water and critical springflow the karst aquifers provide, one would hope these concerns would be addressed. Unfortunately for Central Texans, and like BSEACD, we’re still waiting for answers.
Here’s the bottom line: Kinder Morgan’s planned route for the Permian Highway Pipeline threatens irreplaceable, precious watersheds and water supplies, including the Trinity and Edwards Aquifers, which San Antonio and Austin residents and nearby cities depend on each day for clean drinking water.
Moving the Permian Highway Pipeline so it follows the other existing pipeline corridors to the north or the south of the karst Texas Hill Country aquifers ensures the safest possible route and protects the drinking water that millions of Texans rely on each day.
Texans deserve transparency and details in spades about Kinder Morgan’s proposed Permian Highway Pipeline project — the two things the company, regrettably, continues to withhold from citizens and stakeholders.
It’s time to get answers. The cost of doing anything else is too great.