The Texas State Capitol building with statues in front looking up at the building.

Deep in the Heart of Texas: Natural Gas Cuts Its Way Through the Hill Country

By Emily Martin & Will Wadsworth
News Director & Assistant News Director

In this month’s In the Public Interest segment, KTSW News worked its way through Hays County to find out more about the contentious Permian Highway Pipeline project. Once constructed, the pipeline will run from the Waha natural gas fields north of Fort Stockton to Katy on the western edges of Houston—a roughly 430-mile distance that runs through 16 counties in Texas. Energy infrastructure colossus Kinder Morgan, Inc. is the company undertaking this massive development project, and they’ve placed it in a very positive light.

A poster containing the permian highway project overview
One of the many posters presented at Kinder Morgan’s Open House on Feb. 12. Image by Emily Martin. 

By Kinder Morgan’s figures, the project is expected to generate over 2,000 construction jobs, connect more natural gas to a growing domestic and international energy market, and result in an estimated additional $42 million in annual state and local tax revenue. Currently, the company expects to be done with construction by the end of 2020 and has a powerful tool at their disposal: eminent domain law.

Kinder Morgan’s Vice President of Public Affairs, Allen Fore, summed up the company’s thoughts on the project and expressed confidence in Kinder Morgan’s ability to build this pipeline.

“We can build a nine-foot trench here, safely and in an environmentally compatible way and with by-and-large support of the landowners who are most directly impacted,” Fore said.

Here in Hays County though, not everyone is sold on the proposed natural gas pipeline. Folks ranging from local landowners to the state representative for Hays and Blanco Counties spoke with KTSW and voiced their concerns with, and in some cases, their outright opposition to, the natural gas pipeline. The two biggest issues on people’s minds are land ownership and ecological preservation.

Land owners, private attorneys, and House District 45’s state legislator all spoke about their apprehensions with the use of eminent domain to develop this pipeline. Restrictions on energy development in Texas can be scant though, as State Representative Erin Zwiener pointed out while explaining the lack of regulation over natural gas pipelines like the Permian Highway Pipeline. Zwiener was straightforward in assessing the problems and decried the freedoms afforded to pipeline developers as a regulatory hole.

“The Legislature is the group who gave pipelines the power of eminent domain in the first place. I think we have a duty to make sure a public and transparent process that decides in the best interest of the community is in place for these pipeline projects,” she said.

Questions from the community about potential environmental impacts from this project abound in Hays County. Some wondered what could happen to local water sources, as this pipeline will run through recharge zones of the Edwards Aquifer and will cross under the Blanco River twice. Founder of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association David Baker said he doesn’t believe this pipeline is a good fit for the area.

A poster displaying a map of Texas with the proposed route for the Permian Highway Pipeline alongside existing pipelines operated by Kinder Morgan in the state.
Kinder Morgan’s proposed route for the natural gas pipeline as of the Feb. 12th Open House in Wimberley. Image by Emily Martin. 

“We think this area is unsuited for that kind of infrastructure,” Baker said, specifying that a leak or spill of any sort could prove immediately detrimental to the water table. “It could completely devastate our water supply, drinking water, and supply to the spring, potentially impacting endangered species in the Blanco River and San Marcos Springs and Barton Springs.”

Kinder Morgan has hosted multiple public outreach events to date for the project, and Fore emphasized in a follow-up interview with KTSW that the company intends to involve itself at the local level with routing plans. Fore said Kinder Morgan is also looking into committing to environmental impact mitigation projects, such as purchasing land for a preserve for the endangered Golden Cheeked Warbler, a native of Hays County.

Regardless of Kinder Morgan’s attempts to ease worries over the project, many in Hays County are continuing, and will continue, to slow the company’s progress with the pipeline that Kinder Morgan hopes to begin and complete within the next 20 months. People in the community will make their voices heard as they offer both constructive and critical input on the Permian Highway Pipeline. For the full story, tune in and listen to this episode of In the Public Interest.

Featured image by Will Wadsworth

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