Shared from the 8/13/2020 San Antonio Express eEdition

Two musicians’ message fails to halt Hill Country pipeline

Nelson, Simon stated their views in newspaper op-ed piece

Eric Gay / Associated Press

Andy Sansom closes the gate to his property where a proposed new natural gas pipeline would pass through his ranch in the Hill Country near Stonewall. The pipeline is a 430-mile, $2 billion project.

Mike Segar / Reuters

Paul Simon and Willie Nelson performed together at the 39th annual Country Music Awards in New York in 2005. They’ve now teamed on a newspaper op-ed piece.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Among the threats to the pipeline is a suit over the safety of endangered species, including the Texas Blind Salamander.

HOUSTON — Pipeline operator Kinder Morgan moved forward on a controversial natural gas pipeline through the Hill Country the same day legendary musicians Willie Nelson and Paul Simon issued a public plea for the company to halt the project.

Nelson, also known as the Red-Headed Stranger, and Simon on Tuesday voiced their opposition to the Permian Highway Pipeline in op-ed in the Houston Chronicle.

The pipeline is a $2 billion project to move 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day from the Permian Basin to the Katy Hub near Houston.

Hours after the two musical stars released their op-ed, Hays County Commissioners Court approved permits allowing the company to use horizontal and directional drilling to build the 42-inch pipeline under three roads.

Now more than 79 percent complete, the last portion of the pipeline that needs to be completed is in the Hill Country, where the company faces opposition from landowners concerned about safety and environmental issues in the picturesque region.

“We have chosen the route carefully and paid landowners handsomely for the easements,” Kinder Morgan CEO Steve Kean said in a rebuttal op-ed to Nelson and Simon. “We will restore the land when construction is complete and have secured significant additional lands for endangered species habitat.”

Opponents of the project frequently cite a March 28 accident that sent a mixture of clay and water used for drilling into wells in Blanco County.

In addition to paying numerous expenses for affected landowners, Kean said the company is rerouting a 2-mile portion of the pipeline project in Blanco County.

“After careful consideration, we have decided that rerouting around the Blanco River is the best option,” Kean said. “This reroute will result in 2 additional miles of pipeline and does not include any deep drilling.”

Kinder Morgan spokesman Dave Conover said survey work began shortly after the March 28 incident and that the company since has obtained all the landowner agreements needed to reroute the pipeline. The project, he said, remains on track to be placed into service during the first quarter of 2021.

The Sierra Club has filed a federal lawsuit to stop the project. With the environmental group seeking an injunction that would stop construction through 129 waterways along the route, both sides met for a virtual July 31 hearing. A decision is expected to come later this month.

“The Sierra Club applauds Paul Simon and Willie Nelson for lending their voices to this fight and speaking up on behalf of hundreds of landowners whose concerns about this pipeline have been ignored as Kinder Morgan has torn through their communities with their fracked gas pipeline,” Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter Interim Director Cyrus Reed said.

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor with the University of Houston, said it is rare for a musicians such as Nelson to write op-ed condemning a pipeline project, but was not surprised by the music legend’s opposition based on past political statements.

Although rural Texas has a reputation of being a “Red Republican” area of the state, Rottinghaus said the Hill Country is home to a growing base of Democrats and swing voters.

The high-profile opposition to the Permian Highway Pipeline may not be able to stop the project, but could have an impact on future pipeline projects, he said.

“It may not be a win today but it may be a win tomorrow,” Rottinghaus said. “It might be a win for Democrats or progressives who want to stop the next project.”

Supporters contend the Permian Highway Pipeline will generate $2 billion of taxes and royalties in addition to reducing the amount of excess natural gas burned at oil wells in an industry practice known as flaring.

Elizabeth Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the industry-funded group Texans For Natural Gas, said the state is already home to 466,000 miles of pipeline.

“Texans love Whiskey River, but they also love clean air and affordable energy – which pipelines deliver,” Caldwell said.

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