A federal judge in Texas has denied the Sierra Club’s request to stop construction of the $2.3 billion, 429-mile Permian Highway pipeline that would carry natural gas from the Permian Basin shale region in west Texas through the state’s scenic Hill Country to the Gulf of Mexico.
“Unfortunately, granting an injunction at this stage of the pipeline’s completion would not unring the bell,” Austin-based district court Judge Robert Pitman said Aug. 28, noting that in seeking a temporary restraining order, the environmental group failed to establish a definitive threat of future harm.
Construction began in September 2019 in five phases to have the project competed in 2021, a spokesman for developer Kinder Morgan said. Work was 72% complete and trenching 87% finished in July, Pitman said. “The court cannot remedy any harm that resulted from Kinder Morgan’s past,” he said.
Kinder Morgan opted to proceed under its federal Nationwide Permit 12 to construct the pipeline at 330 water crossings without notifying the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because the crossings did not trigger any of the permit’s general conditions, the ruling says.
At another 129 water crossings, where construction activity potentially jeopardized an endangered species, work was prohibited until the Corps determined in a Feb. 13 opinion that discharge of dredged or fill material into U.S. waters was authorized with mandatory conditions.
Sierra Club attorney Joshua Smith said in a statement that construction has already done significant damage to waterways and will do more if completed, “Indeed, the Court itself recognized that the pipeline has caused a ‘great deal’ of harm to the environment,” he said. The environmental group is evaluating its next step.
During horizontal directional drilling in Blanco County in March, drilling fluid was lost when the contractor encountered a void in the karst geology. This affected nearby wells so the company is pursuing a different route, the ruling says, with residents concerned that an accident or leak could occur at the Pedernales River crossing near Fredericksburg also.
Kinder Morgan said its drilling contractor paused operations there immediately and contained all 90 gallons of drilling fluid from three small inadvertent returns on July 25.
The 42-in. pipeline, set to start some operation in January, will transport 2.1 billion cu ft per day of natural gas to markets along the Gulf Coast and Mexico, and is fully subscribed, said the company.
Troy Construction, Houston, is the main project contractor, with Pumpco Inc., Giddens, Texas, and Houston-based MPG Pipeline Contractors, also working on the project.