Houston Company Proposes Crude Oil Pipeline Across Edwards Aquifer

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Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The Edwards Aquifer spans multiple counties and provides water to more than 2 million people.

A Houston pipeline company is planning to build a new crude oil pipeline across the Hill Country that would almost certainly pass over the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer, the main drinking water supply for the San Antonio region. 

Landowners in Bandera County earlier this month began receiving notices from Enterprise Products Partners, a publicly traded company that specializes in transporting oil and natural gas, about a new pipeline that would extend from Midland County in West Texas to Wilson County southeast of San Antonio.

The pipeline’s route would continue across Midland, Upton, Reagan, Crockett, Schleicher, Sutton, Edwards, Real, Kerr, Bandera, Uvalde, Medina, Frio, Atascosa, and Wilson counties, the letter states. The letter asking landowners for permission to survey their properties does not include a map of the route. 

Rick Rainey, Enterprise’s vice president of public relations, did not immediately respond to questions left in phone messages and an email Wednesday afternoon. Robert Black, a contract agent working for Enterprise who signed the letters received by Bandera County residents, confirmed the line is a 30-inch crude oil pipeline but declined to comment further. 

The pipeline could prove controversial, much like Kinder Morgan’s Permian Highway natural gas pipeline that has led to court battles. In June, a state district court judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by landowners and communities along that pipeline’s route. Crude oil, however, would likely pose a greater threat to underground water supplies than natural gas in the event of a pipeline rupture. 

“This is extremely troubling news to all of us in the Bandera Canyonlands, especially the affected landowners,” said Beyrl Armstrong, board member of Bandera Canyonlands Alliance. The pipeline would “not only threaten our local creeks, springs, and rivers, but it would also damage sensitive wildlife habitat.”

“This high-volume crude oil pipeline would have to cross the Edwards Aquifer and the aquifer recharge zone and contributing zones to reach the Bandera Canyonlands, placing our area’s water supply and ongoing prosperity in jeopardy,” Armstrong continued. 

The alliance will discuss the pipeline at its next meeting at 10 a.m. on Oct. 12 at the Sabinal Canyon Senior Foundation center in Utopia, Armstrong said. 

Though the company has not confirmed its planned route, it would be impossible to cross all of the listed counties without the pipeline crossing over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. That’s the area where water on the land’s surface seeps, trickles, and pours into the underground limestone rock layer, the main water source for 2 million people in the San Antonio area. 

“The Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone is designated by the State as the area most vulnerable to pollution in all of Texas,” said Annalisa Peace, director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, in an email Wednesday. A pipeline leak in the recharge zone or upstream “could enter our water supply with no filtration and travel very quickly through the system, possibly rendering public and private supply wells useless.” 

Roland Ruiz, General Manager of the Edwards Aquifer Authority, said his agency has no oversight of pipelines, even over the aquifer. Only the Railroad Commission of Texas, the state’s oil and gas regulator, would have a say. 

“Honestly, we would rather those sorts of pipelines not cross the recharge zone, but the tool that we have to work with is really just the power of persuasion,” Ruiz said. 

While oil and natural gas pipelines crisscross much of energy-rich Texas, the Hill Country is somewhat of an exception. The region has few oil and gas deposits and only a handful of long-distance transmission pipelines. No crude oil pipelines currently cross Edwards, Real, Kerr, Bandera, Uvalde, or Medina counties, according to a 2013 map of the state’s large pipelines. Armstrong said that if built, it would be the first crude oil pipeline to cross the Edwards Aquifer and recharge zone west of the Austin area.

The pipeline could be a result of a signifiant increase in oil production in West Texas’ Permian Basin. In May, Enterprise CEO Jim Teague said in a first quarter earnings call that the company is expanding its pipeline network to deliver more crude oil from the Permian to the company’s ECHO terminal in Harris County. 

“Our focus on the Permian continues,” Teague told investors, adding that the company has one pipeline from Midland to Houston flowing at more than 200,000 barrels a day and filed permits on another pipeline that also would connect Midland to its ECHO terminal. 

Enterprise already operates a network of oil, gas, and liquids pipelines and terminals that branch from Texas into Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, and across the Midwest as far east as New York and Pennsylvania. 

Enterprise also was in the spotlight earlier this year when a company chaired by Randa Duncan, daughter of Houston oil billionaire and Enterprise founder Dan Duncan, acquired Texas Monthly magazine. The company “also owns various commercial real estate and ranching ventures, as well as a substantial stake in Enterprise Products Partners,” the magazine states. 

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