Tag Archive for: pipelines

Daredevils at Triple PG Mine Continue to Push Safety Envelope

Two daredevil sand mining companies, Triple PG Sand Development, LLC and Texas Concrete, have stepped up their efforts to mine sand between pipelines that carry natural gas and highly volatile liquids.

AG Lawsuit Filed in 2019

In October of last year, the Texas Attorney General sued the Triple PG mine in Porter for up to $1 million on behalf of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The original petition in the case cited repeated breaches in the mine’s dikes over a period of several years that let process water and sediment from the mine escape into the headwaters of Lake Houston. Lake Houston supplies drinking water for approximately two million people.

Days after the AG filed the suit, the mine’s owner, Dr. Prabhakar R. Guniganti, a cardiologist from Nacogdoches, tried to shuffle ownership of the mine through a series of trusts controlled by his family. In June of this year, the AG filed an amended petition, naming all the trusts and their officers (both individually and as directors) as additional defendants.

In that amended petition, we learned that a new operator started managing the mine in May of this year. However, Guniganti still owns it, according to the Montgomery County Appraisal District. The new operator is Texas Concrete, the same company that TCEQ fined in Plum Grove on the East Fork – for multiple breaches and other violations.

Both the TCEQ and AG’s office have declined to comment on ongoing legal matters relating to the Triple PG operation. However, while flying over the mine on Monday this week, I saw something very disturbing.

Mining Between Pipeline Corridors

Kinder Morgan has an easement for a natural gas pipeline through the mine. You can see the pipeline path on the left in the photo below. Their pipeline was exposed during Harvey by erosion and had to be buried deeper. Luckily, no explosions or fires resulted.

Looking NW. Mining between pipelines at the Triple PG mine in Porter. Natural gas line on left; HVL lines in utility corridor at top of frame.

Additional pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids run through the utility corridor at the top of the frame. LMI exposed those same pipelines further northwest when it mined on both sides of them. Then erosion ate the sand out from under them.

Now, Triple PG and Texas Concrete are mining sand from between the pipelines. This will increase the potential for erosion in future storms. That could expose pipelines and potentially lead to pipeline ruptures, spills, and/or explosions.

Looking west. Removing additional ground cover makes the pipelines on either side more susceptible to erosion and exposure during floods.
Looking south. Notice on right how mine has run heavy equipment across both pipeline corridors, a dangerous practice according to pipeline engineers.

To adapt a phrase about pilots from the aviation industry, “There are old miners and bold miners.” Those daredevils at Triple PG sure are Bold. With a capital B. As in Boom.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/11/2020

1200 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.

Sand Mine Continues to Push Its Luck by Mining Over and Between Pipelines

Last year, the flood during Tropical Storm Imelda washed out the sand supporting a natural gas pipeline running across an easement through the Triple PG Sand Mine in Porter. Luckily, Kinder Morgan (KM) shut the line down before anyone was hurt. KM then drilled 75 feet under the mine and spliced in a new section. But now Triple PG is mining over the new section, once again eroding the the public’s margin of safety.

Of course, it’s possible that the miners won’t get down to 75 feet. But TACA and some West Fork sand mines say they routinely mine 100 feet down.

Eroding Margin of Safety

Just as bad, they’re mining toward five pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids (HVL), potentially exposing them in the next flood, just like they were on the West Fork at the LMI River Road Mine.

The Kinder Morgan natural gas line runs diagonally between the trees in the foreground, parallel to helicopter skid in the lower left. Five HVL pipelines run in the utility corridor in the background.
Here’s how that same area looked after Imelda on 9/27/2019, when Caney Creek (right) had flowed through the mine.

Shortly before Harvey, the sand mine started mining next to the road cutting diagonally from top left to bottom right. Then, Harvey flowed through the mine, creating much of the erosion you see here.

Two years later, Imelda cut through the mine again, extending the erosion headward to the point where it could threaten the HVL pipelines in the utility corridor near the top of the frame above during the next flood.

In two years, the headward erosion cut toward the pipelines by 2000 feet.

Triple PG Already Operating Under Injunction

The sand mine sits at the confluence of two floodways and floods repeatedly.

On October 11, 2019, the State Attorney General at the request of the TCEQ, filed a temporary restraining order and temporary injunction against the sand mine. Repeated breaches of its dikes which had gone unrepaired allowed process wastewater to escape directly into the headwaters of Lake Houston. The issue even became part of the last Mayoral campaign when Tony Buzbee picked it up.

A Travis County Court set a trial date for 6/22/2020, but the trail has been delayed by COVID. Shortly after the Attorney General filed his suit, the owner of the mine, a cardiologist from Nacogdoches, tried to transfer ownership within his family’s companies and trusts.

The attorney general wound up suing all of them and the cardiologist’s attorney petitioned to withdraw from the case as counsel – a highly unusual move.

The case is still pending trial. Until then, the mine continues to operate under an injunction which prohibits it from dredging, but not dry mining.

Source: Travis County Clerk
Source: Travis County Clerk as of 9/30/2020

2020 will certainly go down in history as the year of living dangerously. A miner trying to push his luck is just one more thing we shouldn’t have to worry about…especially when he’s sitting on top of a huge stockpile of sand that he has barely touched in months.

No one has died yet. Hopefully they won’t. But if they do, it won’t take long for a lawyer to argue negligence and triple damages for the Triple PG owners. Of course, they will then likely declare bankruptcy and tuck tail back to Nacogdoches.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/30/2020

1128 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 377 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.

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.

Don’t Dig Near Pipelines: A TACA Safety Moment

The Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association (TACA) brags that its members uphold the industry’s highest standards for safety. Or did they mean daring? Let’s have a safety moment.

Myth Meets Reality on the West Fork

To shine a light on the difference between the myth and reality, I’ve taken up a new hobby: sand-mine photography from a helicopter. On my December flight up the West Fork of the San Jacinto, I flew over this mine. Note the wetlands and utility corridor in the middle. Also note the trench leading through the trees on the right to that open gap in the tree line along the utility corridor.

I was curious about that gap. So I asked the pilot to go closer and got the photo below. How strange, I thought! The pipeline corridor has washed out, like at the Triple PG Mine. But this was a little different. The mine appeared to be draining the wetlands. Note the river of muck in the photo below.

Enlargement Shows Makeshift Supports

Someone had rigged “supports” under five pipelines. See the enlargement below. I put supports in quotes because they don’t seem to be working very well; note the sagging. Some look more like clotheslines than pipelines under pressure.

Pipelines Carry Highly Volatile Liquids

Investigation showed this is the SAME utility corridor bisecting the Triple PG mine miles to the southeast in Porter. These are the same five pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids (HVL). This mine, however, lies on the West Fork of the San Jacinto in Conroe near 242.

The channel under the five pipelines is up to a 100 feet wide.

Historical Images in Google Earth Show How This Happened

An investigation of historical satellite images in Google Earth shows that erosion has been a problem in this area at least since 1995 – the date of the earliest available image. Water overflowing the wetlands tried to make its way to the river on the other side of the utility corridor. The problem was manageable, however, as long as the land was flat. That was until 2014.

In 2014, when the mine first started excavating next to the corridor, a process called headward erosion started. Water flows from top to bottom. Notice how much deeper and wider the erosion is below the corridor than above. See explanation below.

In 2014, two things happened. The mine started excavating right up to the edge of the pipelines (just as Triple PG did).

Next, three back-to-back-to-back monster storms in 2015, 2016 and 2017. They were “perfect storms” where the right combination of circumstances came together: Heavy rain. Exposed, loose soil. Steeper gradient.

How “Headward Erosion” Happens

The fact that miners had excavated up to the pipeline corridor with some very deep pits created a steep drop at the edge of the pipelines. That meant water crossing the corridor tended to accelerate and erode the sandy soil beneath the pipelines faster. The soil then sagged into the pit, much as you see in the pictures above. This process is well documented and has a name: headward erosion.

Here’s an illustration of how the process of headward erosion works

Here’s a 43-second YouTube video showing the process in action in a table-top flume experiment.

Makeshift Repairs Not Working All That Well

Trying to make the best of a bad situation, it appears that either the miners or the pipeliners tried to shore up their pipelines with supports. But it’s not working. They keep trying to plant grass. They keep using erosion control blankets. The supports keep sinking. And the pipelines keep sagging. Here’s an even bigger blowup.

It looks as if some of these supports are anchored in quicksand. Notice the extreme difference in their heights. The cross braces supporting the weight may be adjusted as the supports sink. But not on this day.

Another factor here: What if a tree washes down this chute during a torrential rain? It happens. Regularly.

I have a hard time imagining the stress on these pipelines. An engineer calculated a range of weights for me. He made some assumptions about the thickness of the pipes and the weight of liquids inside them. Then he calculated the weight of 100 feet. The range: 20,000 to 30,000 pounds. No wonder they’re sagging. That’s more than I weigh after a dinner at Carrabbas!

Probably No Imminent Danger, But Just in Case…

They’re probably not an imminent danger. But what happens in the next big storm? We’re overdue. It’s been more than two months!

Hundreds of thousands of gallons of flammable liquids. Under high-voltage electric lines. Pipes under stress. Erosion that widens with every storm. This should be a wake up call. But…

TACA has resisted all attempts at sensible regulation. They don’t even want to define and publish best practices. And it has long been known that you can’t legislate common sense. So I guess we are just stuck living on the edge with connoisseurs of edge work.

Where to File Complaints

If you would like to complain to someone, these people may be willing to listen.


Mine Safety and Health Administration (this puts miners at risk)

Texas Railroad Commission (responsible for pipelines in Texas)

US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

Location of exposed pipelines: 30º11’56.63″N, -95º21’57.78″W

Office on 18214 East River Road in Conroe, TX

Highly Volatile Liquid (HVL) Pipelines Involved:

  • 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

That concludes our safety moment.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/9/2019 with help from Josh Alberson

832 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 80 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.

From Erosion to Explosion: Why It’s Dangerous to Mine Sand Near Streams and Pipelines

Mining sand near pipelines can expose the public to danger through erosion. We’ve seen this at the Triple PG sand mine in Porter where a potentially lethal combination of circumstances came together. 1) MINING 2) in a FLOODWAY 3) too close to PIPELINES 4) created EROSION 5) that undermined and EXPOSED the pipeline 6) to FLOATING DEBRIS and 7) the FORCE of floodwater.

Excavating pits in floodways causes erosion to move upstream and downstream during floods. When the pit is too close to infrastructure, such as bridges (or pipelines), erosion can then threaten their foundations.

Predictable Phenomenon

Headward erosion is a PREDICTABLE phenomenon. It’s as certain as gravity causing dirt to fall into a hole. Except in the case of the Triple PG sand mine, floodwater gave gravity an assist. It pushed the dirt into the hole. The hole, in this case, is the sand pit on the left below. The floodwater came from the top of the frame.

Headward erosion cut right through the pipeline crossing that paralleled what used to be a road around the mine.

This doesn’t happen every day. It’s sporadic. It happens during floods. But that makes it no less predictable.

How Triple PG Grew Toward, Between and Past Pipelines

The images below show the growth of the Triple PG Sand Mine northward into Montgomery County. In 1995, the mine was 2,000 to 3,000 feet away from the pipelines.


2017 Pre-Harvey

The mine kept expanding to the west and north. Just before Harvey, notice how Triple PG had mined right up the pipeline and beyond it, into the danger zone between the pipeline corridors.

Then came Harvey.

2017 Post-Harvey

During Harvey, headward erosion took out about a 200-foot wide section of earth supporting the natural gas pipeline (also seen in the helicopter photo above). Harvey also elongated the lake in the middle of the pipeline corridors.

Then in 2019, this area had a major flood in May and Tropical Storm Imelda in September. The major breach widened and the lake elongated even more.

2019 Post-Imelda

Imelda widened the Harvey breach so wide and deep that it exposed more pipeline. (See photo below).

Exposed pipeline has no protection from floodwaters carrying trees, cars, houses or other debris downstream. A major collision could cause an explosion. But that’s not even the biggest potential catastrophe at the Triple PG mine.

Now … For the Real Disaster Scenario

Looking at a wider satellite image (below), we can see that the mine is now closing in on the HVL pipelines from the south AND the north. It brackets them.

Water flows from top to bottom in the image above. Note how Caney Creek bends near the white line above. During Imelda, floodwater cut through that area into the big northern pond at this bend instead of following the natural stream bed. See below.

Without constant repairs like you see above, Caney Creek could soon reroute itself through the big pit on the left below. Erosion on both sides of the utility corridor could expose the HVL pipelines – just as it did the natural gas pipelines. Not likely, you say?

A breach on the left would reroute Caney Creek right across the pipelines buried in the utility corridor on the right.

In the last three years, the two ponds along this line have grown closer together by more than 1000 feet. The ponds now are within a few feet of actually touching the pipeline corridor on both sides. Continued erosion could soon threaten the HVL pipelines in the middle if nothing is done to stop it.

Why is This Potentially MORE Dangerous?

Compared to exposing a natural gas pipeline, exposing liquid pipelines is far more dangerous.

When a natural gas pipeline explodes it creates a fireball that could kill anyone near it.

But when HVL pipelines rupture, they spew poisonous liquids. And if those pipelines rupture during a flood, those poisonous liquids will flow right into the source of drinking water for two million people – Lake Houston. This is why sand mining in floodways near pipelines is a bad idea.

Most of us have seen news footage of pipelines that ruptured on the San Jacinto River. Floodwaters swept away barges that collided with pipelines and caused them to explode. Could something comparable happen here with trees or cars floating downstream?

Enter James Cameron stage right.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/7/2019 with help from Josh Alberson

830 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 79 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.