Tag Archive for: Liberty Materials

A Little Bit of Utah’s Bryce Canyon Comes to Conroe

Sand mining is turning parts of Conroe into areas that look a little bit (a very little bit) like Bryce Canyon in Utah.

Hoodoo Magic

On March 6, I flew over the Liberty Materials Moorehead Mine in Conroe and captured this image.

Deep pit portion of Liberty Materials Moorehead mine in Conroe.

It struck me as similar to the hoodoos in Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park.

Bryce Canyon NP, Utah. Photo courtesy of National Park Service.

Bryce Canyon Hoodoos

Hoodoos are tall, thin spires of rock that have usually eroded from the edge of a drainage basin. Hoodoos typically consist of relatively soft rock topped by harder, less easily eroded stone that protects each column from the elements. In the case of the Conroe hoodoos, the vegetation at the top of the pit helps provide that protection.

Of course, the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon formed over the last 40-60 million years, through the relentless forces of erosion. The Conroe hoodoos formed in the last two years. They’re not quite as spectacular or as tall. And they’re made out of sand, not sandstone.

Sandstone is formed when sand is cemented by such materials as silica and calcium carbonate. Most sandstones form through the accumulation of river sediments on seabeds. They are then compressed and uplifted to form new lands. Bryce Canyon was uplifted 8,000 feet, Conroe about two hundred.

Liberty Materials vs. Mother Nature

Here are some more pictures of the Liberty Materials mine in question.

And to give equal time to Mother Nature, here are some more pictures of Bryce Canyon.

Sunrise, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, Photo © Bob Rehak 2011
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, Photo © Bob Rehak 2011

Liberty looks a little sloppier than Mother Nature. But then, Mother Nature takes her time.

It may take a few more years before 2 million people a year start visiting the Liberty pit.

Posted by Bob Rehak

929 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Note: Unlike the other images on this site which are public domain, please refrain from copying or distributing my images of Bryce Canyon. To see more of my photography, visit BobRehak.com.

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.

Progress on Pipeline Repairs at Sand Mines

In the last month, workers made progress on pipeline bed repairs to two area sand mines. But repairs at one sand mine look substantial. At another, they look superficial. Triple PG in Porter is still edging into the danger zone.

Exposed by Erosion When Mining Came Too Close

In December and January, I posted about pipelines exposed when sand miners mined too close to them. Floodwaters then swept through the mines and undercut the pipelines, creating safety hazards.

Pipelines exposed by erosion at Liberty Materials Mine in Conroe. Photo taken January 20, 2020.

Several HVL (highly volatile liquid) pipelines (above) and one natural gas pipeline (below) were affected at mines in Conroe and Porter.

Exposed natural gas pipeline at Triple PG mine near Caney Creek in Porter. Photo taken December 3, 2019.

Here’s where things stand on repairs at both mines as of last week..

Triple PG Mine in Porter: Another Big Cover Up

The Triple PG Mine in Porter has covered up the exposed natural gas pipeline with sand. As of 2/13/2020, Triple PG had made no other visible attempts to stabilize the area, which is subject to repeated erosion. Harvey first exposed the pipeline, which Triple PG subsequently covered. Then Imelda re-exposed it. And Triple PG re-covered it.

Fresh sand covers exposed natural gas pipeline. Will it be washed away a third time in the next big storm?

Readers may remember that after Harvey, Kinder Morgan tunneled 75 feet under the mine and spliced in a replacement for the section that had been exposed. They then filled the cutoff section with inert gas. So the exposed section was not active.

Still, without further stabilization, the pipeline will likely be exposed again and again by future storms.

Triple PG still has made no attempt to stabilize erosion creeping toward the HVL pipelines that cross the mine in a utility corridor. The same erosion that exposed the natural gas pipeline will threaten those in future storms.

Five pipelines carry highly volatile liquids through this utility corridor. Triple PG mines sand from either side of them. During floods, Caney Creek runs through this mine creating the erosion you see here.

Liberty Materials Mine in Conroe: Fix Nearing Completion

At a Liberty Materials Mine in Conroe, a much more substantial fix is underway by the pipelines. The mine spanned both sides of the utility corridor. Water from one side, trying to get to the river on the other, washed under several HVL pipelines, exposing them.

Repairs began in January and were well under way in February. Crews first expanded the washed out area under the pipelines. Then they placed two giant culverts under the pipelines to allow water to move from one side to the other. They also cemented the culverts in place and drove vertical steel reinforcements in the ground to prevent re-exposure of the pipelines.

Two giant culverts will now carry water under the pipelines. Shown above: the outfall.
Steel reinforcements rise above the level of the pipelines to help retard erosion. Photo taken 2/13/2020.
Rip rap and other reinforcements will also help retard erosion.
Inlets for the culverts. Photo taken 2/13/2020.
Looking west toward The Woodlands. San Jacinto West Fork is at far end of sand mine. Note all the sand and sediment that has washed under this area to the far side of the steel reinforcements.

As of 2/13/2020, crews were filling dirt in under, around and over the pipelines.

The repairs here appear much more substantial than in the Triple PG mine. I just hope the volume of sand washing from one section of the mine to the other does not clog the culverts. The steel reinforcements will protect the pipelines in this location, but water has a habit of flowing around obstacles.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/23/2020

908 Days after Hurricane Harvey 157 since Imelda

Latest Sand Mine Breaches and Near Breaches

In the continuing saga of sand mining on the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto, I present the results of my January 20, 2020, flyover. I found three breaches and two near breaches between I-45 and the East Fork. See below.

Liberty Materials Mine in Conroe

Let’s start upriver on the San Jacinto West Fork near Conroe. These first two images come from the Liberty Materials Mine that the TCEQ cited for allegedly discharging 56 million gallons of white slime into the river.

In this photo you can see that road (upper right) has repairs blocking a previous breach. However, discharge continues to flow through the dike. This indicates potential structural instability that might jeopardize the dike in a major flood and cause another massive discharge.
A couple hundred yards away at the same mine, there’s so little road left, driving a car across it could cause collapse of the remaining dike. That jeopardizes safety of workers and the safety of drinking water. Only four or five feet separates a massive mining pond from the West Fork in the foreground.

There sure is a lot riding on that little spit of sand. If this one blows out, I pray the TCEQ and Attorney General goes after them for gross negligence. How could they ignore this?

Hallett Mine in Porter

The next two shots come from the Hallett Mine in Porter. They show the same issue from two different angles.

Looking toward the pond.
Looking toward the West Fork. Another portion of the mine lies on the far side of the river.

Abandoned Mine in Porter

This is the drainage ditch that parallels Northpark Drive before it enters the river. This mine appears to be abandoned. Regardless, sediment, seems to consistently wash out of it. This breach has been open for since 2015.

Triple PG Sand Mine in Porter on Caney Creek

The Attorney General is suing this mine for breaches that remained open for months after the May floods last year. Currently, the mine is operating (but not dredging) under a temporary injunction until the case goes to trial on June 22. While mine owners have closed other breaches on White Oak and Caney Creeks, this breach remains open. Technically, it doesn’t connect with with river until a flood. But during floods, photographic evidence shows that Caney Creek reroutes itself through the mine, raising pressure that causes dikes in other places to collapse.

The shot below shows headward erosion toward five pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids.

Such breaches and near breaches create a good argument for creating minimum setbacks for mines from the creeks and rivers that supply our drinking water.

Sadly, legislation that could have done that died in committee during the last session. But there’s always next year. I will continue to monitor how well the mines do until new measures can be reintroduced. Pressure is building throughout the state to control air and water pollution from aggregate mines.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/12/2020

897 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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.

Pipeline Bed Repairs Now Underway at Liberty Mine; At Triple PG Mine, No Progress

In December, I reported on how sand mining on both sides of pipelines contributed to erosion underneath them. Such erosion exposed five pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids (HVL) through one of the Liberty Materials mines in Conroe. The pipelines sagged across the gap like clotheslines. See below.

Erosion exposed five pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids through the Liberty Materials mine in Conroe. Photo from December 3, 2019.

Repairs Now Underway

Several local engineers who saw the problem leaped into action and immediately reported the issue to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Railroad Commission. Four of the five pipelines were interstate and therefore regulated by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. TRRC forwarded the complaints to them.

When I flew over the same mine on January 20, 2020, workers were busy shoring up the pipelines to protect the public.

Pictures from January 20, 2020, Flyover

From the materials stockpiled on the site, it appears that large drain pipes under the HVL pipelines will be part of the fix. These drain pipes appear to be as tall as the pickup truck parked next to them.

Looking south, you can see drain pipes and riprap stockpiled on the left.
Looking south again. Workers appear to be creating an even deeper trench under the pipelines and pumping out groundwater.
Reverse angle, looking north. Water drains down from the northern portion on the mine through wetlands, under the pipelines, and then into the main southern part of the mine. From there, it makes its way to the San Jacinto River, out of frame behind the camera position.
Looking southwest. You can see wetlands draining from the northern portion of the site to the problem area in the upper left.
Looking north, you can see the scale of the drain pipes relative to the vehicles parked next to them.
The pipelines look less bowed than in the first shot from last December. However, there is still a pronounced dip between the left and right sides of at least two pipelines in the photo.

Situation at Triple PG Mine in Porter

These same pipelines run through the Triple PG mine in Porter to the southwest. See the utility corridor under the electric lines in the photo below. I reported on them in December also. The pipelines have not yet been exposed at this point, but no effort has been made to stop the erosion before it creates another safety issue.

Looking NW. The same pipelines cut through the Triple PG mine in Porter. Erosion from Harvey and Imelda has eaten away the ground on either side of the pipelines. They could be exposed in the next large storm. Photo taken 1/20/2020.

During Harvey and Imelda, Caney Creek rerouted itself through this mine in a process called pit or river capture. Floodwater eroded a new path from the top of the photo above to the bottom. The pipelines have not yet been exposed, but easily could be by the next large storm. The inverted v-shaped cut you see in the photo above grew by almost 1000 feet since 2017.

This reverse angle shot shows the proximity of erosion from the north to the utility corridor with the 5 HVL pipelines. The pond at the right now actually touches the utility easement.
This satellite image in Google Earth also shows erosion at the edge the utility/pipeline corridor. The streaks of sand across the corridor show the direction of water flow during Imelda.

Because of the Triple PG Mine’s proximity to the source of drinking water for 2 million people, this erosion probably represents an even greater threat than erosion at the Liberty Mine in Conroe. Caney Creek flows through this mine during floods. And Caney Creek empties directly into the East Fork and Lake Houston.

This pipeline used to carry natural gas for Kinder Morgan. Triple PG mined too close to it also. Then erosion during Harvey and Imelda exposed it – twice. KM abandoned this line and filled it with inert gas. They then drilled a new line 75 feet under the mine. But this exposed pipeline stands as a mute reminder to the safety hazard.

It all comes down to sand vs. safety. It’s their sand. Your safety.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/27/2020

881 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 130 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.

Pipeliners Vs. Sandminers: An Update

The expansion of sand mines into easements occupied by pipelines puts both the public and the pipelines at risk – not to mention sand mine employees. In the last week, we have seen two areas where erosion triggered by sand mining undercut and exposed pipelines. Here’s an update on how the industry and regulators have responded.

Pipelines in general are the safest form of transportation known to humankind, even though they often carry highly flammable gases or liquids. However, undercutting and exposing them increases the risk of explosions, leaks and fires. It felt comforting, therefore, to see that the pipelines were aware of the problems and working to address them.

Exposed and Threatened Lines at Triple PG Mine In Porter

After posting the story about the exposed natural gas pipeline at the Triple PG mine, I received three calls from Kinder Morgan managers between 12 and 3 a.m. Saturday morning. I received another at 8 a.m. on Monday morning.

This satellite image shows the relative locations of the gas and HVL pipelines that cross the Triple PG property. It also shows the progression of erosion after Harvey but before Imelda. See post-Imelda erosion below.

Exposed Pipeline Now Replaced by One Buried 75-Feet Deep

Hurricane Harvey first exposed the natural gas pipeline in question shortly after Triple PG started mining right next to it. Water flowed through the mine from Peach and Caney Creeks (top to bottom above) during Harvey. It created severe erosion that left the pipeline hanging in several places. See below.

Exposed by erosion during Harvey and Imelda, this pipeline at the Triple PG sand pit in Porter is now “abandoned.”

After Harvey, the company immediately stopped the flow of gas through that pipeline and spliced in a new 2,000 foot section. It now runs 75-feet beneath Caney Creek and the erosion. Kinder Morgan filled the old section with inert gas and covered it up. However, Tropical Storm Imelda uncovered it again. But the pipe above has technically been abandoned. It no longer poses any danger to the public.

Kinder Morgan has not re-buried the pipeline because the Triple PG owners have not repaired the road to the pipeline.

At this mine, erosion has not yet reached the other five pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids (HVLs). But it is close.

Looking NW shows how close erosion and pits are to both sides of pipeline corridor.
Looking southeast at Triple PG mine and the massive erosion that occurred during Harvey and Imelda. Note pipeline corridor in bottom left.

During Harvey and Imelda, this erosion extended more than 1,700 feet (approximately 1/3rd of a mile) toward the HVL pipelines. The next large storm could take it across the corridor, exposing more pipelines.

Exposed and Undercut Pipelines in Conroe

Farther northwest in Conroe – up this same utility corridor – the HVL pipelines HAVE become exposed through headward erosion.

Mining here has moved toward the utility corridor in the foreground from the San Jacinto West Fork in the background.

Liberty Materials operates this mine. That’s the same company cited by the TCEQ for allegedly discharging 56 million gallons of a milky white substance into the West Fork from another mine last month. The other mine is about a mile south of this one. These are just two of nine facilities that Liberty operates in the area according to the TCEQ.

Looking south across the utility corridor and one half of the mine toward the West Fork. Notice water and sediment trying to drain to the river. See close up below.
Stormwater running across the utility corridor has undercut and exposed five pipelines. This process started in 2014 when the operator mined next to the utility corridor and triggered headward erosion..

Railroad Commission Response

In Texas, the Railroad Commission regulates pipelines. Jennifer Delacruz of the Texas Railroad Commission (TRRC) received several complaints and is aware of this situation. She told Josh Alberson, one of the complainants, that four of the five pipelines are interstate and therefore regulated by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. TRRC forwarded the complaints to them.

Wide shot of same area looking south across utility corridor to southern half of mine.

Mustang operates the one intrastate pipeline. According to Alberson, Delacruz had already discussed the situation with Mustang before he and she talked. Delacruz told Alberson that Mustang and the other operators had filed a lawsuit against the mine operator for damages and repairs, but it seemed to be going nowhere. The pipeline told her that it and the other pipeline operators are currently working together to protect the pipelines. They plan to start construction of earthworks or a concrete bridge in January. TRRC intends to closely monitor this going forward.

However, the depth of the pits on either side of the corridor may make bridging the erosion difficult because of soil instability. See below.

Note depth of newly excavated pit on north side of corridor.

As the northern pits get deeper and approach the utility corridor in the middle, the erosion under the pipelines will also get deeper. This seems like a losing battle for the pipelines. And there’s no guarantee that another area won’t wash out.

Industry Response

A pipeline manager at one of the world’s largest oil companies looked at these photos and said, “You could try to limp along with supports and erosion control, but Mother Nature will eventually ruin most anything that can be installed.” He felt that temporarily shutting the lines down and drilling under the mine would be the safest alternative, much like Kinder Morgan did at the Triple PG mine.

Legislative Response

Given the wholesale expansion of sand mining on the West Fork, and the unwillingness of the mines to keep a safe distance from pipeline easements, pipelines need to figure out a new strategy. To date, the state has refused to impose any meaningful setback regulations on sand mining.

TACA, the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association, killed legislation that might have done that earlier this year. They lobbied heavily against developing best practices for sand mining. The bill died in committee. As a consequence, we now have worst practices.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/11/2019 with help from Josh Alberson

834 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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.

Liberty Materials Mine Carved Out of Many Wetlands

The Liberty Materials Mine in Conroe on the West Fork of the San Jacinto was cited last month for allegedly discharging 56 million gallons of wastewater loaded with up to 25 times the normal amount of sediment. When we look at the issue of sediment in the river and how it affects flooding, such breaches contribute to the problem. But it’s not just what such sand mines discharge. It’s also about what the wetlands they were carved from don’t hold back any more.

Before there was a Liberty Materials in Conroe, the area they now occupy contained many densely forested wetlands. Now there is nothing to slow down the water during heavy rains. Much more sand and sediment are exposed. And the wetlands are no longer there to filter it. It’s a double whammy. We get it coming and going.

Green areas mapped as wetlands in USGS National Wetlands Inventory. See descriptions below.

Before Liberty, Abundant Wetlands

Visually, it appears that wetlands once covered roughly half the area of this mine. But what was actually there?

US Geological Survey (USGS) and US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) use a five character alpha-numeric code to classify wetlands. Liberty Materials operates in areas that were classified as PFO1A and PEM1A.

P stands for the class: Palustrine. Palustrine wetlands include any inland wetland that lacks flowing water. The word palustrine comes from the Latin word palus or marsh. Wetlands within this category include inland marshes, swamps and floodplains covered by vegetation.

The second two letters in each case stand for the subclass: FOrested or EMergent. Forested means it had broad-leaved, deciduous trees or shrubs taller than 6 meters. Emergent means it had aquatic plants.

These were areas that could store large volumes of water during floods. Plus, they had vegetation that could suck it up.

Trees Soak Up Water, Too

Trees can soak up 50 to 300 gallons of water in a day depending on their size, age and type. They send it back into the atmosphere; let’s use 100 gallons as a conservative average and do some simple math to calculate their contribution to flood reduction.

It’s difficult to estimate the number of trees per acre; it depends on the factors mentioned above plus more. But some people use 500 trees per acre as a good average for estimating purposes.

The Liberty sand mine complex comprises more than a thousand acres. That’s 500,000 trees each soaking up 100 gallons of water per day. Or 50 million gallons of water per day.

That’s about the same amount that the TCEQ estimates the Liberty Mine discharged downstream in one breach.

Personally, I’d rather have the trees and wetlands than white water and a river that’s so silted up it contributes to flooding.

Influence of Wetlands on Flooding

Imagine a sand box that’s 1.5 miles wide and 2.5 miles long. Here’s what it looked like the day after the peak of Hurricane Harvey.

Image from 8/30/2017 of Liberty Mine one day after the peak of Harvey.

And here’s why. Note how closely the extend of flooding matches the extent of the flood plains. Like almost all mines on the West Fork, this one lies substantially within the floodway and floodplain.

Cross-hatched = floodway; aqua = 100 year; tan = 500 year floodplain.

Is Liberty’s Luck Running Low?

If these people had the strongest dikes in the world, maybe you could cut them some slack. But they don’t. They breach repeatedly.

About a month after allegedly discharging 56 million gallons of process wastewater into the West Fork, the only thing holding back another discharge at the Liberty Mine is a couple feet of sand. Photo taken on 12/3/2019.

We need sand, but not at the expense of floods and the environment. Maybe it’s time for TACA to run some of its members out of Texas. That do-good routine they stage in Austin every other year could be in jeopardy with members like Liberty. See below.

11/4/2019. The Day the West Fork Turned White. Confluence of Spring Creek and West Fork. TCEQ alleges that Liberty Mines discharged 56 million gallons of white waste water into the West Fork.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12.5.2019

828 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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.

Liberty Materials Sand Mine Built in Floodway, Floodplains, But Flooding Not Likely Cause of Breach

A Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) investigation into the mysterious white water on the West Fork, focused on sand mining upstream. TCEQ cited Liberty Materials for allegedly discharging 56 million gallons of milky-white water into the West Fork.

The mine’s manager said he “didn’t have a clue” about when, why, or how one of the mine’s pits lost 4 feet of water. A water sample showed nearly 25 times the normal amount of dissolved solids.

West Fork on November 4, 2019. It angles from left to right. Spring Creek, by contrast comes from top to bottom.
Color of the water on November 4, 2019 on the West Fork San Jacinto, about a half mile upstream from US59.

The Liberty Materials mine, like virtually all of the mines on the West Fork, sits in the floodway and floodplain. It’s a mile and a half wide and almost three miles long. About a 1000 acres altogether.

San Jacinto West Fork is white ribbon cutting diagonally through image. Floodway = Cross-hatched area. 100-Year Flood Plain = aqua. 500-Year Flood Plain = Brown. Source: FEMA’s national flood hazard layer viewer.

That’s a lot of sand and sediment exposed to the ravages of floodwater.

But the irony in this case is that there was no flood immediately before the breaches.

The gage at State Highway 242 near the Liberty mine shows 2.4 inches of rain during a 3 day period starting six days before the white-water incident.

Rainfall at SH242 and San Jacinto West Form from October 27 through November 3, 2019. Source: HarrisCountyFWS.org.
Late October rainfall caused the West Fork to rise about 3 feet, but the river had another 18 feet to rise before flooding.

That amount of rainfall caused the river to rise about 3 feet. But it was still 18 feet away from flooding!

Alternative Breach Scenarios

So if flooding didn’t do it, how did the water get out of the mine? One possibility is that the terrain funneled rainwater into the pond and caused it to overflow. The overflow then started a fissure which widened into the Grand Canyon of the West Fork.

Several mining engineers suggested other alternative scenarios:

  • Industrial sabotage by a disgruntled employee
  • Liquefaction of the sand around the perimeter of pits as they filled with rainwater
  • A heavy truck driving over sand about to liquify
  • They needed to clean out the pond and intentionally lowered the level
  • Needed purer water to create acceptable frack sand
  • “The Boss Made Me Do It”, possibly related to one of the two points above

I’m not saying there was a deliberate breach, but we’ve seen it happen before.

“Dunno What Happened!”

The mine manager interviewed by the TCEQ claims he doesn’t know when, why, or how the breach happened. Yet it caused a four-foot drop in the level of a major pond for more than a week.

To paraphrase the famous quote from Hamlet, “Methinks, the man professes ignorance too much.” By that I mean, the denials cause him to lose credibility. If your swimming pool suddenly dropped four feet, wouldn’t you want to know the cause?

His responses hint that something else is going on here. We may never know what. Despite tens of millions of gallons of pollution being poured into the West Fork, these cases rarely go to trial.

All the more reason to establish greater setbacks from rivers for sand mines.

The state legislature needs to make it more difficult for “accidents” like these to happen.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/2/2019

825 Days after Hurricane Harvey

October Aerial Photos of Liberty Materials Mine Show Evidence of Previous Breaches

Yesterday, I posted the results of a TCEQ investigation into the Liberty Materials sand mine in Conroe. TCEQ alleged that the mine discharged 56 million gallons of white milky pollution into the West Fork of the San Jacinto. They also found that a water sample taken at the mine contained almost 25X the normal level of dissolved solids. The report mentions four other recent investigations that resulted in citations for unauthorized discharges.

October Flyover Shows Other Discharges At Same Mine

Today, I reviewed aerial photos of the mine that I took on a flyover in October, before the alleged unauthorized discharge.

Note the color of water in two ponds at the Liberty site. All photos taken on 10/2/2019.
Mine in background and West Fork in foreground. Notice discharge despite attempt to plug leak.
Same breach from opposite angle
Another breach almost looks like it was designed to funnel water into the river.
In addition to the major breaches above, note a smaller breach here...
…and the water escaping from the pond alongside the road. Those pipes running along the river sure do make it hard for canoeists and kayakers to get downstream.

More Than a Dozen Discharges Seen on One Day

The TCEQ cited Liberty for 4 previous unauthorized discharges in the last 2.5 years. Had they visited the mine on October 2nd, they might have found that many violations in one day.

And these weren’t the only breaches I found that day. Counting those at other mines on the East and West Forks, TCEQ could have easily tallied another dozen violations on this one day.

Sad to say, this industry has an abysmal health and safety record.

To track the status of TCEQ cases near you, check out this section of their web site.

Posted by Bob Rehak on December 2, 2019

825 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 74 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.

TCEQ Cites Sand Mine for Allegedly Discharging 56 Million Gallons of White Pollution into West Fork

After receiving complaints and news reports of bright white water in the West Fork of the San Jacinto, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) launched aerial and ground investigations.

West Fork near US59 bridge. Photo taken 11/4/2019.

They found three mines discharging process water into the West Fork of the San Jacinto.

  • Sorters-Eagle Mine, used as Placement Area #2 by the Army Corps, at 231 McClellan Road in Kingwood
  • RGI Materials at 18185 Hill Road in Porter
  • Liberty Materials at 19515 Moorhead Road in Conroe

The Corps found that the discharge from the Eagle-Sorters mine was related to equipment installed by the Corps which is being removed. Therefore, the TCEQ considered it a permitted discharge and did not issue a Notice of Enforcement.

The other two mines, however, were different stories. The TCEQ issued Notices of Enforcement to both for alleged unauthorized discharges of process water.

Double Breach at RGI

At RGI, TCEQ investigators found that a process wastewater pond breached into a stormwater pond. That, in turn, breached into the West Fork. (Click the link above to see the complete investigation report.) Investigators cited the mine for one alleged violation for failure to prevent the unauthorized discharge of process water. The same mine already had one active notice of enforcement for a violation that allegedly occurred on 10/2/2019.

Loss of 56-Million Gallons of Milky-White Waste Water Goes Unnoticed

At Liberty Materials, TCEQ investigators found a 6′ deep by 30′ wide berm breach still discharging process wastewater when they arrived. The initial burst of wastewater had spread out more than 90 feet and had matted down vegetation for 850 feet. The water then entered a gully which emptied into the West Fork. Investigators say the discharge was milky white in color. They also say that water marks indicate the process pond had dropped approximately 3 to 4 feet!

Unauthorized discharge of white process water by Liberty mine on 11/6. Photographed by TCEQ.

Surprisingly, investigators had to notify the operator of the breach. He professed ignorance of it.

The TCEQ cited the mine for unauthorized discharge of pollutants. Their 124-page report makes interesting reading. The investigators collected numerous samples of water and tested for total dissolved solids.

They found one sample contained almost 25X more than the standard limit for dissolved solids in that part of the river.

From Page 100 of the TCEQ investigation of Liberty Material’s Moorhead Plant on 11/6/2019.

They also estimate that a four-foot water drop in the process pond would have dumped more than 56 million gallons of pollution into the West Fork.

“Not Sure. Don’t Know. No Clue. Duh!”

A “must-read” is the interview with one of the mine’s managers on pages 113-114. Some excepts:

  • When did the berm breach occur? Answer: Not sure.
  • How did it occur? Answer: Not sure.
  • Do you have maintenance logs for berm repairs? Answer: Don’t keep them.
  • What happened to the berm of the missing pond? Answer: No clue.
  • When did the berm go? No clue.
  • How did the berm go? No clue.
  • How much did you discharge? Not sure.

Are we really to believe that a competent manager would not notice the loss of four feet of water in his process pond?

Incident Highlights Two Problems

Nowhere does the report say that the milky white discharge that I photographed further downriver two days before this investigation came from this mine. In that sense, the findings of these investigations probably will not satisfy the public’s passion for closure.

But they do shine a spotlight on two problems.

Problem #1:

This was the sixth alleged violation for the Liberty mine on Moorehead in 2.5 years. They allegedly dumped 56 million gallons of pollution into the West Fork without noticing it and played dumb when investigators caught them in the act. They just do not fear the penalties which have averaged $800 per incident statewide since 2011. At that rate, pollution becomes part of miners’ business plans.

Problem #2:

TACA kills almost all attempts at reasonable regulation by bottling the proposals up in committee every legislature.

Business Friendly Vs. Resident Hostile

I cannot understand how state government allows such flagrant behavior to continue. A teenager who got caught breaking into cars six times in 2.5 years would be heading to Huntsville. Dump 56,000,000 gallons of pollution in a public drinking-water source and you get the equivalent of a speeding ticket. All you have to say to the judge evidently is, “Duh!”, and you’re right back in business.

Go figure. Why does “business-friendly” have to mean “resident-hostile”?

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/1/2019 with thanks to the TCEQ

824 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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.