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No Permian Highway through the Hill Country

Letter to the Editor
Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Texas Hill Country is renowned for its natural beauty. That is the main reason people choose to be here and why tourism is a major source of income. Now, a huge energy company, Kinder Morgan, proposes to cut a swath through the Hill Country with its “Permian Highway,” a pipeline connecting the West Texas oil and gas fields with export terminals on the Gulf Coast. This mega-sized 42-inch diameter tube would damage the environment, endanger the water supply, lower property values, and inflict considerable economic damage in the heart of the Hill Country.

Companies building oil and gas infrastructure have traditionally been given the status of “common carriers,” which entails the ability to use eminent domain. The laws that allow the building of pipelines with eminent domain powers were passed because pipelines arguably served the broader public good by supplying indispensable energy. The combination of localized environmental problems occurring with oil and gas production and its exacerbating effect on human-made climate change should be sufficient reason to rethink this evaluation. While Texas could lead the way in solving the problem of climate change, irresponsibly accelerating fossil fuel production and building new infrastructure like the Permian Highway pipeline will only worsen it.

Climate change has become a major threat to our health, safety and economy. It will most likely have an especially negative impact on groundwater in the Hill Country, the drinking water for two million people in Central Texas. With human-made climate change causing more and more serious weather events in this rapidly developing area, the aquifers are in jeopardy. The Edwards Aquifer is subject to direct effects of droughts and floods. There is extreme drawdown during droughts. During floods, water quality typically declines due to run off.  

I also have grave concerns about the immediate threat the pipeline poses to the complex karst aquifers of the Hill Country characterized by soluble limestone filled with fissures, caves, sinkholes, and underground streams.  A leak from the pipeline near Wimberley could easily make its way into Barton Springs, 35 miles away. The company behind this pipeline, Kinder Morgan, has a less than stellar safety record. Possible spills and explosions would contaminate groundwater, creeks and rivers. Moreover, the pipeline’s route is in close proximity of Jacob’s Well, a major attraction of Hays County and a very significant ecological preserve.

The gas (and later possibly other hazardous products) this pipeline would carry will be almost exclusively used for export. There is currently no shortage of supply of natural gas in the US, and a new pipeline is not needed domestically. It would, however, create new demands elsewhere increasing greenhouse gas emissions globally. Also, the export of fossil fuels might hurt Americans in the long-term by decreasing local supply and raising prices for American consumers.

For all these reasons, giving a private company the power of eminent domain to build a pipeline is not appropriate. It would decrease property values and endanger people living close by. It would be a violation of the property rights of Texans - not for the public good but for the short-term profits of corporations while harming our environment and long-term economic progress. Citizens must demand that eminent domain laws be reformed to bring the powers of the oil and gas sector in line with the common-sense regulations applied, for example, to electric utilities.

While not building a new pipeline for the export of fossil fuels would be by far the best option, rerouting it away from environmentally sensitive areas like aquifer recharge zones or using existing pipeline easements would at least prevent the most immediate harm and enjoy overwhelming support from citizens - while still endangering the future of our planet, of course.

Heiko Stang

Wimberley