San Marcos City Council unanimously voted on March 5 to oppose the 430-mile, 42-inch natural gas pipeline set to be routed through the center of Hays County.
In addition to expressing the city’s opposition to the project, the resolution—almost exactly like the resolutions recently passed by the Hays County Commissioners Court and Kyle City Council—demands immediate state legislative action that would require additional oversight on the project and any future projects like it.
According to a preliminary map provided by Kinder Morgan, the pipeline is set to run just north of Wimberley before passing between Kyle and San Marcos.
The pipeline’s proposed route has been the center of local controversy as residents, officials and environmental protection groups fear the natural gas line will put the Hill Country’s environmentally sensitive features at risk—namely the Edwards Aquifer, which serves as the water supply for much of the region, and the habitat of the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.
Kinder Morgan plants to route the Permian Highway Pipeline over portions of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. Opponents believe that such a route will make the aquifer—which is uniquely sensitive due to its karst features—dangerously susceptible to pollution.
Kinder Morgan consultant Greg Neal and Ashley Waymouth, managing director of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, each gave presentations before the council took its vote.
In her presentation, Waymouth said that for more than 30 years, dye tests conducted by local scientists have proven how interconnected the region’s water supply is. As a whole, she said, that makes the region more sensitive to the presence of a natural gas pipeline than other areas in the state.
“They put dye in a sinkhole or a creek or in a formation and then they sort of test all of the surrounding areas to see where this dye reappears,” Waymouth said. “Sometimes it comes out in people’s bathtubs.”
She said a 2009 study found that dye placed in the Blanco River later showed up in the San Marcos Springs.
“In fact, continuously through these studies, we’re learning that during times of regular flow the water from the Blanco contributes about roughly 30 percent of the flow to the San Marcos Springs,” Waymouth said. “This pipeline is challenging and threatening both Barton Springs and the San Marcos Springs in addition to the numerous wells or other supplies.”
In addition to the aquifer’s vulnerability, Waymouth said the water bodies in Hill Country are particularly susceptible to increased sedimentation caused by the digging that is necessary to install a pipeline. She told the council about an incident in December, where a substantial influx of sedimentation appeared in Barton Springs following the digging of a single well in the Edwards Aquifer.
“If we can see that connection in this very sensitive area which has very—if not exactly—the same characteristics of our own, what could we expect to find from this 430-mile pipeline coming right through the middle of some of the most sensitive areas? Any amount of trenching, any amount of digging, any amount of excavation could trigger increased sedimentation in our springs.”
Increased sedimentation in the San Marcos Springs, Waymouth said, would pose a threat to the endangered salamanders that live in them and are found nowhere else in the world.
“[Kinder Morgan] will be destroying hundreds of acres of the golden-cheeked warblers’ natural nesting habitat, but they’re just going to buy some land somewhere else and call it good,” Waymouth said, referring to a federal credit system that is sometimes used to offset adverse effects of development in endangered species habitats. “They can’t do that for these salamanders, which are incredibly prone to increased sedimentation, to pollution, to any amount of disturbance.”
During his presentation on behalf of Kinder Morgan, Neal urged the City Council to reject the resolution as “unnecessary” and “ill-conceived.”
“Can we agree that this resolution, as it is written, is counter to the interest of Texas?” Neal asked, noting that natural gas is a substantial contributor to the state’s economy. “And it does nothing to address the stewardship of the resources we claim to value. Instead, the entire focus is recommending new layers of ill-defined governmental bureaucracy and changing the laws which have served the oil and gas industry for over a hundred years.”
Neal said the Permian Highway Pipeline will have a positive economic impact on the state and the communities it passes through because it is projected to add $42 million of increased tax revenue.
Waymouth, however, said she does not believe the additional revenue will be a net benefit to the Hill Country.
“In one version of the story, sure, there’s an increased annual tax revenue—but how much is that compared to how much loss we could expect to experience?” Waymouth said. “If any of this gas spills into the aquifer how will they clean it up? How will they get it out? So ultimately we are very concerned about the wellbeing of the San Marcos Springs, we’re concerned about the wellbeing of our groundwater at large.”
Neal asked that the council talk to Kinder Morgan about the city’s concerns rather than asking the state legislature to change its laws to include greater oversight and restrictions on the use of eminent domain.
“I made my presentation as someone encouraging working with Kinder Morgan as opposed to sanctioning the project, and as I described, punting the project to the state legislature for them to take up these issues of the environment,” Neal said. “Keep the discussion here, locally, with the company that’s doing the work.”
Following the presentations, Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Prewitt noted that the pipeline is currently routed through some of the most dense and heavily populated areas in Hill Country.
“It goes through areas where there’s neighborhoods, subdivisions, schools,” Prewitt said. “We live in a city of Texas and y’all are just going in and literally taking people’s lands from them? Why in God’s name would you choose that route? I mean, that’s where our people live.”
As she fielded questions to Neal, Prewitt said that most of the people in the Hill Country are passionate about preserving the environment of the region because it is one of the primary reasons they choose to live in it.
“I don’t think that anybody here is specifically telling you we don’t want you to put this new energy source and pipeline through, but you have one already opening up in West Texas—why not utilize that area already?” she said. “After learning how pristine and precious and sensitive this environment is and that if you had a spill that went into the aquifer there would be no way to clean it up—why would not you consider a different route?”
Neal told Prewitt and Council Members Melissa Derrick and Mark Rockeymoore that he could not answer their questions about the route and encouraged them to speak with the company’s Vice President of Public Affairs Allen Fore.
“I’m a consultant. However my thrust—my presentation—this evening was to engage Kinder Morgan in further discussion and that’s the kind of question I believe they’re prepared to answer,” he said.