October 2019, Vol. 246, No. 10

Editor's Notebook

Pipelines Have Been Here All Along

If you read anything about the pipeline planned for the Hill Country, you will get the clear yet misleading impression that, while the rest of Texas is marred by oil and gas infrastructure, the Hill Country is virgin territory, untouched by the footprint of one of the state’s most important industries. The Permian Highway Pipeline Project, to employ the most popular metaphor used by the opposition, would “scar the Hill Country.” 

The assumption that the Hill Country has thus far been preserved from the energy industry is presented without proof, an unchallenged assertion based, as near as I can tell, on this logic: A pipeline would pose an unacceptable risk, if not certain harm, to the golden-cheeked warbler, the aquifer, and admittedly lovely countryside. The existence of the birds, water and wildflowers is offered as evidence that Gillespie, Blanco, Caldwell and Hays counties haven’t been used for pipelines, as one of the opposition’s attorneys told the Hays Free Press. The birds exist, so the pipelines don’t.

Except they do. The truth is that there are already over 500 miles of existing pipelines transporting natural gas through Gillespie, Blanco, Caldwell and Hays counties. What’s more, some of these pipelines, like Kinder Morgan’s Hill Country Pipeline, have been operating as safe and silent residents of the Hill Country as far back as the 1950s. So silent, in fact, everyone in the Hill Country forgot they were even there. 

As you can imagine, it’s vital to the opponents of the pipeline to ignore the hundreds of miles of underground natural gas pipelines already in the Hill Country. Otherwise, it would become obvious that the imminent dangers they tout are really just empty threats.

In fact, rather than admitting that pipelines are already safely situated in the Hill Country, opponents choose to double down and publicly characterize this form of critical infrastructure as inherently hazardous to the region. “The Hill Country in particular is one of the few parts of Texas that’s never really been touched by the oil industry,” writes one publication. The Hill Country, writes another, is “a quickly growing and environmentally sensitive region that’s been relatively untouched by oil and gas development.” And a landowner opposing the project asserts, “It doesn’t make sense for pipelines to be going through this area.”

They say the pipeline threatens the habitat of the golden-cheeked warbler, but if there are already pipelines below ground, how can that be so? 

They say the pipeline would inevitably leak and pollute the drinking water supply, but if pipelines are already there – and the water supply is fine – would a new pipeline actually constitute a threat? (Also, the pipelines are built above the water table, and natural gas rises and dissipates into the atmosphere; it does not fall and contaminate underground water.)

They say new pipelines would scar the countryside, hurting the tourism industry. But if pipelines were already there before the tourism industry got its start… Well, you get the idea. 

Instead of relying on the opposition’s misbegotten assumptions about pipelines in the Hill Country, trust the facts. There are literally hundreds of miles of natural gas pipelines underground already and they have been there for generations. They co-exist with golden-cheeked warblers and many other beautiful species, the water supply is clean, and tourists flock to the Hill Country. Pipelines are safe.

Allen Fore is vice president of Public Affairs for Kinder Morgan, Inc., where he manages government relations and community relations for existing company assets and major expansion projects nationwide.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in TribTalk, a publication of the Texas Tribune.


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