A natural gas pipeline under construction in the Permian Basin could be blocked in court by environmentalists alleging a federal agency ignored a court order that could have vacated permitting allowing the line to be built over bodies of water as it stretches from West Texas to the Gulf Coast.
The Permian Highway Pipeline (PHP) owned by Kinder Morgan was planned to transport natural gas 428 miles from the Waha Hub near Pecos County, Texas to Katy, Texas about 30 miles west of Houston.
The line would also be able to access connections to export and refinery markets on the coast.
Construction of the $2 billion project began in the fall of 2019, and it was expected to go into service by the end of 2020 with a capacity of 2.1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day through 41-inch pipeline.
The project met backlash from numerous environmental groups and local communities along the route, with Kinder Morgan settling with the City of Kyle in October 2019 for $2.7 million to protect the small town near Austin from “undue” harm associated with the pipeline.
And on April 21, the Hays County Commission voted to rescind construction permits it had recently issued to Kinder Morgan for construction under county roadways, in response to a recent spill caused by the pipeline in neighboring Blanco County.
The Commission instructed the County’s Transportation Department to send notice to Kinder Morgan to pause the work until a new policy was approved, per minutes from the Hays County Commission Court.
The decision would stand, read the minutes, until Kinder Morgan complied with a notice of violation issued by the Texas Railroad Commission and provided a plan to avoid future groundwater contamination, while also providing Hays County with a geology report for each county road crossing.
In its lawsuit filed on April 30, the Sierra Club also pointed to a decision issued by Chief District Judge Brian Morris of the District Court of Montana which on April 15 struck down the Army Corps of Engineers’ issuance of Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP12), which “authorized discharges of dredged or fill material” into certain waters as needed by pipeline projects.
In his decision, Morris wrote that the permit violated the endangered species act as the Corps allegedly failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when it reissued the permit in 2017 for its five-year renewal.
“NWP 12 is vacated pending completion of the consultation process and compliance with all environmental statutes and regulations,” read Morris’ decision. “The Corps is enjoined from authoring any dredge or fill activities under NWP 12 pending completion of the consultation process and compliance with all environmental statutes and regulations.”
That case centered around the Keystone XL pipeline project, the fourth phase of the Keystone Pipeline that would run from Alberta, Canada across the American West into Texas and Oklahoma.
But the Sierra Club argued in the suit that the decision should also block the Permian Highway Pipeline from being built, as its 449 planned water crossings were based on NWP12.
The group also argued the pipeline had not undergone a proper environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
“If completed, the Permian Highway Pipeline could devastate communities, clean water, and wildlife along the route, and the Army Corps can’t just ignore these impacts,” said Sierra Club Senior Campaign Representative Roddy Hughes.
“The fact that there’s already been a spill into the local water supply in the early stages of construction makes it more obvious than ever that the Corps must not allow the continuing construction of this dirty fracked gas pipeline without analysis of its environmental impacts and full local public participation in the permitting process.”
Sierra Club Attorney Rebecca McCreary said the project should be ceased, as no public hearings were allowed under NWP12 ahead of permitting, nor any public notice or comment.
“It is outrageous that the Corps approved this project without public notice or opportunity to comment on their permits,” McCreary said.
“Nationwide Permit 12 allows for no public hearings or participation by the local communities before the Corps permits construction to start, nor is there public notice or comment on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permits allowing harm to the endangered species along the route. The Corps should stop this project immediately.”
John Watson, an attorney from Johnson City, Texas – in Blanco County – wrote a letter to the Corps in July 2019, asking that they reconsider the route of the pipeline as it traveled through numerous communities Watson argued had fragile groundwater supplies that would be at risk if the pipeline was built and used.
Representing a group of Hill Country residents, Watson said alternative routes should be developed via a thorough environmental assessment.
“As someone who has property and lives downstream on one of the major rivers crossed by the route of PHP, I am concerned about the potential negative impacts from both construction and operation of a high volume, high pressure fracked gas transportation pipeline,” Watson said.
“The clear water rivers, springs and aquifers are irreplaceable assets of the Hill Country prized by residents and all Texans. Opposition to this route, not attempted by any other pipeline coming out of the Permian Basin, is widespread. It is time for those voices and concerns to get a fair hearing.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, email@example.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.
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