By, Terra Rivers, Managing Editor
On Tuesday, Hays County Commissioners and County Judge approved a resolution and took an official stance on Kinder Morgan’s Permian Highway Pipeline Project.
The resolution opposing the Permian Highway Pipeline passed unanimously in court Feb. 26. The resolution of opposition is the second to go before a local authority.
On Feb. 19, the Kyle City Council considered and unanimously approved a similar resolution to formally oppose the pipeline, which is set to run between it and Dripping Springs.
Mayor Travis Mitchell said, “This item is being brought forward by the entirety of the City Council. And while we recognize that resolutions are in no way binding legal documents, they certainly reflect the will, in this case particularly, I think, of every single man, woman and child in the city of Kyle.”
According to both resolutions, the State of Texas has given the private company the authority to use eminent domain for the pipeline.
A provision in the Texas Constitution under Article 1, Section 17, states “no person’s property shall be taken, damaged or destroyed for or applied to public use without adequate compensation being made.”
The provision also states that the state can grant an entity the power of eminent domain under the law.
Commissioner Lon Shell said the resolution was not an attack on oil and gas in Texas. With the county’s environmental sensitivity, the pipeline was simply not what was best for Hays County.
Several residents and representatives from local environmental group addressed the court expressing concerns about water quality, safety, property rights and other issues connected to the pipeline’s proposed route through the Wimberley Valley.
Dianne Wassenich, program manager for the San Marcos River Foundation, thanked commissioners from “the very bottom of [her] heart” for taking a stand on the issue.
As part of the resolution of opposition, the county requests legislative and administrative changes be made to “create better regulatory processes for oil and gas pipeline routing that enable impacted landowners and local governmental entities to have a voice in approval process, require environmental and economic impact studies for all oil and gas pipelines and enhance checks and balances against the broad delegation of eminent domain authority to private companies.”
Judge Ruben Becerra said he has reached out to Kinder Morgan and invited them attend the next Commissioners Court meeting to answer the court and residents’ questions regarding the pipeline.
Hays County and Kinder Morgan have held several public outreach efforts about the project in the area to hear community concerns and answer questions.
Becerra said he agreed with the rest of the court and opposed the pipeline.
“Another one of my concerns is private property rights. We take eminent domain extremely seriously,” Commissioner Shell said. “I know this court takes it extremely seriously.”
Shell continued, “And when you look into the context of some of the roadways that we have designed, planned and built for the last quarter of a century, the public process taken in developing these corridors is very lengthy.”
Shell cited the 150 Corridor study, which the county will likely take 15 years to plan and the amount of community involvement from surrounding cities, local organizations and communities.
“To allow a private company to have eminent domain without that type of a public process and that type of engagement, I think is something that needs to be fixed,” Shell said.
The Permian Highway Pipeline Project is a proposed natural gas pipeline that will connect the Waha Natural Gas pipeline junction to the markets on the Texas Gulf Coast.
The 430-mile pipeline project is expected to run through 16 counties in Texas and projected to be a $2 billion project.
According to Kinder Morgan, the pipeline will transport as much as 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day through a 42-inch pipeline.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Drilling Productivity Report, which was released on January 22, 2019, the Texas Permian Basin produced 12,963 million cubic feet of Natural Gas per day.
Natural gas in the Permian is a byproduct of crude oil productions; the lack of pipelines has caused producers in the Permian Basin to be forced to flare gas when they’ve reached capacity.
Flare permits are issued for 45 days at a time by the Railroad Commission of Texas for a maximum of 180 days. To flare natural gas, the gas is simply ignited and vented into the environment.
According to the Office of Fossil Energy, the United States is the world’s leading natural gas producer. Natural gas is one of the world’s leading sources of energy.
The Union of Concerned Scientists said natural gas was not considered a useful producers in the early years because of the difficulties producers faced in transporting it to markets.
On January 29, Hays County Commissioner Lon Shell, Pct. 3, held a public meeting at the Wimberley Community Center to discuss the pipeline project.
The planned route of the pipeline crossed Hays County from Caldwell County along affecting residents in Wimberley and Kyle.
During the meeting, Shell said, “The pipeline route as proposed will travel through environmentally sensitive areas of the Hill Country and Hays County, potentially impacting our aquifers, springs, and livelihoods, and subjecting our land to environmental damage. Residents have concerns, rightly so, about their property values, water and air pollution, noise pollution, and disruption to their lives.”
A panel of local officials including Lucy Johnson, former Mayor of Kyle, Hays County General counsel, Mark Kennedy, David Baker of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, Austin-Based Attorney Jeff Mundy and Matt Lara, Vice President of the Hill Country Alliance, spoke at the meeting to share their concerns and discuss the project.
Approximately 31.5 miles of the proposed pipeline will run through Hays County and will stretch between Wimberley and Dripping Springs and San Marcos and Kyle. However, the map has not been finalized.
Kinder Morgan, the company behind the pipeline, is still in the preliminary stage of the project; negotiations and discussions with landowners and local officials are currently in progress.
Representatives of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District and the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District were among the speakers to address the public last Tuesday night.
“Right now, we still have a lot of unanswered questions, but we are working on this issue every day,” Shell said. “Landowners who are approached by Kinder Morgan representatives have the right to negotiate rights of entry onto their land, engage a lawyer, and negotiate monetary and non-monetary terms for any easement requested by Kinder Morgan.”
The primary concerns expressed by the community are in regards to safety and the area’s unique environment. Hays County is an environmentally sensitive area with the San Marcos and Blanco Rivers and being located over the Edwards and Trinity Aquifers.