Note: This post has been updated at 3:30 a.m. with information from Kinder Morgan.
The Texas Attorney General is suing the Triple PG Mine for dike breaches that allegedly discharged process wastewater into the drinking water supply of 2 million Houstonians. I photographed multiple dike breaches there in May, September, October and November. On Tuesday this week, I flew over the mine again and noticed something in one of the unfilled breaches: an exposed natural gas pipeline. Kinder Morgan, the line’s owner has had three washouts around this line in two years, according to a spokesman. Currently the line is filled with inert gas until it can be repaired, so there is no immediate danger. However, the repeated washouts raise questions about the safety of mining sand around pipelines.
Exposed Pipeline in Danger Zone
These pictures tell the story.
When I got home, I enlarged that sign in the foreground to see what it said.
Flying over the trees, here’s what you see looking northwest. Notice the exposed pipeline in the bottom right of the photo. It aims toward a massive 183-foot breach in the mine’s northern dike created by Hurricane Harvey. Obviously, moving water exerts tremendous force in this area. See below.
Here’s what a close up of the pipeline looks like.
One tree has fallen on the pipeline like a guillotine.
A second Kinder Morgan spokesperson characterized this as a MAJOR natural gas pipeline.
He said the first two washouts happened during Harvey in the major and minor breaches shown in the photos above. After Harvey, they buried the pipeline under the major breach and filled in the smaller breach.
Then came Imelda. The smaller breach washed out again, creating the third exposure.
Kinder Morgan has not repaired the small breach this time because they can’t get to it. It has been 78 days since Imelda and the mine has yet to repair the road leading to the exposed pipeline.
Previous photographic analysis suggested that during Tropical Storm Imelda, 42,000 cubic feet per second coming from Peach and Caney Creeks (out of frame in the upper right of the photograph above) captured this mine’s pit. That means, the creeks likely rerouted themselves through the mine during the flood.
Here’s another view from a slightly different angle.
I feel only a little bit safer knowing that the mine’s owners have agreed to stop dredging until the AG’s lawsuit goes to trial next year.
Another Port Neches in Porter?
According to Josh Alberson, a number of major pipelines run through this area. The Texas Railroad Commission’s GIS viewer shows the Kinder Morgan natural gas line crossing the property plus the following:
- Plains Pipeline – Red Oak Pipeline (20”) moving crude
- Enterprise Products Operating – Chapparral System (12.75”) – HVL Liquid (probably crude)
- Mustang Pipeline – GLPL System (6”) – HVL Liquid
- Enterprise Products Operating – Texas Express Pipeline System (20”) – HVL Liquid
- Phillips 66 Pipeline LLC – 8″ Products Pipeline
These are major pipelines!
I hope the Mine Safety and Health Administration addresses this before we have another Port Neches disaster in Porter.
The more I look at this mine, the more surprised I am that people have not gotten killed here. It reeks of danger.
These repeated breaches and the exposed pipelines remind me of pipeline incidents farther down the river. They destroyed lives and properties in previous floods when lines ruptured from collisions with floating debris. We’re just been lucky so far.
Hollywood Blockbuster in the Making
I’ve nicknamed this mine “Death Wish VII” after one of my favorite movie series. I can’t wait until the next sequel comes out. Some friends in Hollywood are working on a treatment already. “Cardiologist turned sand miner pollutes drinking water of 2 million people, burns down East Texas, and is named Citizen of the Year by TACA.” It has all the earmarks of a Hollywood blockbuster. But seriously, I think TACA has more class than that. They would probably name him Citizen of the Decade.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled blogging. So much for satire.
Pipeline Incidents Cost 3X More Public Lives than Industry Lives
I’m dead serious now. Thank God that there’s inert gas in this pipeline for now. But what happens in the next flood when it’s flammable gas. What if its exposed for a fourth time and more trees start slamming into it.
There’s danger associated with this. Here’s a list of all the public and industry injuries, fatalities and costs related to pipeline incidents in the US since 2005.
Two things jump out at me: the public sustains roughly three times more injuries and fatalities than industry, and the costs are staggering – in the billions.
I have already notified the TCEQ and MSHA. My feeling? We shouldn’t be mining sand in floodways. And we especially shouldn’t be mining sand in floodways criss-crossed with pipelines. The mines accelerate the potential for washouts. And that exposes everyone to more danger.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/7/2019, with help from Josh Alberson
830 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 78 since Imelda
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.