Tag Archive for: Railroad Commission

Railroad Commission Plugs Three Abandoned Wells Near Forest Cove Townhomes

This week, the Railroad Commission of Texas finished plugging three abandoned oil wells in the Forest Cove townhome complex near Marina and Timberline Drives. The Commission cited the owner for leaks in the past. However, the owner, Noxxe Oil & Gas, went bankrupt in 2020. That put the responsibility for remediation on the Railroad Commission. The Commission began plugging earlier this month and finished in this location on Wednesday afternoon. See photos below.

About Plugging

The National Petroleum Council says that a well is plugged by setting mechanical or cement plugs in the wellbore at specific intervals to prevent fluid flow. The plugging process usually requires a workover rig and cement pumped into the wellbore. The plugging process can take two days to a week, depending on the number of plugs to be set in the well.

Oil and gas can not only seep up through the well’s pipe, but also through the annulus. The annulus is the area between the outside of the pipe and the surrounding earth. Therefore, plugging often involves perforating pipe and forcing cement into the annulus, too.

First of three wells being plugged. Photographed on Sunday May 9, 2021. The larger townhome complex in the background was torn down on Wednesday, May 26, 2021.
Pump jack from second well ready to haul away. Photographed on May 26, 2021. Note West Fork bridge in background.
Railroad Commission contractors plugging third of three wells near townhomes on Wednesday, 5/26/2021 at 8am.

Pumpjacks like the one above represent a form of “artificial lift. They give nature a hand when pressure in the well cannot bring oil and gas to the surface by itself in produceable quantities.

Photo taken at noon on May 26, 2021. Contractors packing up. Note location of previously demolished townhomes to left of rig and top center. Water in foreground is the San Jacinto West Fork.

Plans For Rest of Wells Remain Unclear

The Railroad Commission has not returned multiple calls or emails regarding its plans for other Noxxe wells near the Forest Cove little league fields. Earlier this year, the Commission said that someone might buy those wells and try to produce oil from them, using the tanks already on the property.

Approximately 10 wells remain on the portion of the old Noxxe lease between the Forest Cove Little League fields and the San Jacinto West Fork at the top of the frame. Photo taken on 5/26/21 around noon.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/28/2021

1368 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.

Cleanup of Leaking Oil Tanks on Noxxe Lease by Forest Cove Little League Fields Complete

The Texas Railroad Commission has finished the cleanup of leaking oil storage tanks on the Noxxe Oil & Gas lease by the Forest Cove Little League fields. Several tanks remain, but they are empty and not leaking. According to a Railroad Commission spokesperson, another individual wants to take over the lease. That person intends to use the remaining tanks to help operate one or two wells that can still produce.

However, regarding a new producer, Gilbert Herrera, a spokesman for the Railroad Commission said, “I haven’t seen any P4 (transfer of wells) come through on the Noxxe wells in Harris County, so far.”

Before/After Pictures of Two Worst Areas

Worst Area
Worst portion of lease on 1/20/2021 as cleanup started.
Same area 11 days later on 1/31/2021. Tanks on right have been left intentionally for now and are empty.
Second Worst Area
Second worst area on 1/1/2020.
Same area on 1/31/2021 after cleanup. Note that five storage tanks are gone.

Industrial Litter Still Clutters Site

A drilling rig, travel trailers, trucks, drill pipe and more still remain on the site. Peter Fisher, District Director for the Railroad Commission said the Commission planned to salvage/auction those items. However, he could make no promises. “Sometimes we’re successful and sometimes we’re not,” said Fisher. It depends on the market.

Abandoned pipe and more still remains on Noxxe site.

Abandoned Wells Still Not Plugged

Abandoned wells on this site have not yet been plugged. Neither have wells on the western portion of the site near Marina Drive and Aqua Vista. The Railroad Commission says that “depending on well prioritization, approvals, rig scheduling, and so on, we have an estimated time of 14 to 19 weeks” for plugging.

Note oil sheen on ponding water next to San Jacinto West Fork, upper right.
Again, note the oily sheen on the water next to these abandoned wells. The San Jacinto West Fork/Lake Houston (lower left) provide water for 2 million people.

Much Work Still Yet to Do

“All eligible orphan wells for plugging will be submitted to Austin for approval. From there and dependent on the factors mentioned before, we will plug as many of the wells as possible in that area,” said Gilbert Herrera of the Railroad Commission. 

You can view all the “orphan wells” in that area on the Railroad Commission’s GIS map. An orphan well is one left behind by a bankrupt company.

Harvey forced Noxxe out of business. The company could not afford the cleanup. However, the Pew Foundation found that “So-called “orphan” oil and gas wells, which have been abandoned by defunct companies that cannot pay to plug them, are a growing problem in many states thanks to a recent slump in energy prices that has forced marginal operators out of business.”

“Nobody knows how many orphan and abandoned drilling sites litter farms, forests and backyards nationwide. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates there are more than a million of them. Unplugged wells can leak methane, an explosive gas, into neighborhoods and leach toxins into groundwater,” said Pew.

How many wells are there around the Humble salt dome? Hundreds, if not thousands. See below.

Screen capture of Railroad Commission GIS database showing oil and gas wells in the Humble/Kingwood area. Note the circular outline that matches the shape of the Humble salt dome.

The Railroad Commission GIS database lets you toggle software switches to see which wells are active, dry, plugged, orphaned, etc. Hovering your cursor over a dot shows the current status of the well.

Drillers frequently find oil and gas around salt domes. Salt, which is buoyant within the earth, fractures surrounding rock. Oil and gas seep into those fractures where it collects in commercial quantities. Is there any doubt why this area was so attractive to oil companies over the years? Here’s a history of the Humble Oil field which was discovered in 1904.

Once again, thanks to State Representative Dan Huberty for working with the Railroad Commission to accelerate cleanup of this area once the problems became known.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/3/2021

1254 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Noxxe Oilfield Cleanup Starts Tomorrow in Forest Cove

Dean Southward, a spokesperson for the Texas Railroad Commission, confirmed today that cleanup of the toxic mess left behind by Noxxe Oil & Gas near the West Fork in Forest Cove will begin tomorrow. Noxxe abandoned its lease after Harvey flooded the entire field, toppled tanks, and destroyed the stripper-well operation.

The Railroad Commission tried unsuccessfully to get Noxxe to clean up the site for 2.5 years. After Noxxe declared bankruptcy in 2020, the Railroad Commission seized Noxxe’s remaining assets. Aerial photos show those include abandoned tanks, wells, pipe, vehicles, and more. Now the cleanup becomes their responsibility and it will be no small task. See below.

Photos Taken January 1, 2021, Before Start of Cleanup

Abandoned Noxxe well, rusting tanks and a toppled heater treater near Forest Cove Townhomes also destroyed by Harvey.
Another portion of Noxxe’s field lies between the West Fork and the Forest Cove little league fields. The noxious stench of spilled crude could be smelled from the fields and surrounding homes.
The Railroad Commission intends to plug all the abandoned wells.
The site contains about twenty tanks which can be auctioned or cut up for scrap metal.
Topless tanks without netting over them exposed area wildlife and bird to danger.
Home or office on the lease, also destroyed by Harvey. The company also left behind at least two campers.
Closer to the river, Noxxe left behind another well, a drilling rig, a communication tower and five more tanks, two of the toppled. Water on this site is suspect. Aerial photos taken after Harvey show oil swirling in the river.

Thanks for the cleanup go first and foremost to the Texas Railroad Commission, monitors more than 440,000 oil wells in the state. Thanks also go to State Representative Dan Huberty who helped accelerate the schedule once he became aware of the problem.

Noxxe may have a joke name – Exxon spelled backwards. But the mess left behind by the company is no laughing matter. Residents and kids who play baseball in Forest Cove will soon breathe a lot easier.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/18/2021

1238 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.

January Digest of Flood-Related News in Lake Houston Area

From construction developments to political developments, here’s your January digest of ten stories that could affect flooding or flood mitigation in the Lake Houston Area.

1. New Caney ISD High School #3

This site is located between Sorters-McClellan Road and US59 south of the HCA Kingwood Medical Center. New Caney ISD is building a new high school on the site of the old par 3 golf course behind the car dealerships that front US59. Construction crews are still pouring concrete for foundations and parking lots. Not much happened between flyovers on December 7 and January 1. But then, not much happens anywhere during the holidays. The two photos below show the progress. Construction of the detention pond is nearing completion. However, contractors still need to plant grass to reduce erosion before spring rains arrive.

New Caney ISD High School #3 site as of December 7, 2020
As of January 1, 2021.

New Caney ISD has not posted a project update since last September. Projected occupancy for the building is still Fall 2022.

2. Kingwood Cove Golf Course Redevelopment

I first talked about Ron Holley’s redevelopment of the Kingwood Cove (formerly Forest Cove) Golf Course in April last year. Since then Holley says he has been working with engineers, community groups and regulators to accommodate different interests.

Now, the development is back on the planning commission agenda for this Thursday. Holley is seeking approval of his latest General Plan and Plat. Neither show any detention ponds. The only place they could go would be in “Reserve C.” The General Plan shows that to be in the floodway and 100-year floodplain. Both could soon expand.

The West Fork floodway cuts through the southern part of Holley’s property.

The City raised an issue regarding compliance with regulations governing the re-plat of golf courses at the 12/17/2020 Planning Commission meeting. The City requested information relating to Local Government Code 212.0155.

That regulation requires, among other things, that:

  • Public notice of the re-plat be printed in newspapers
  • The Forest Cove Property Owners Association is notified
  • Residents have an opportunity to voice their opinions at public hearings
  • Owners of all properties within 200 feet of the new plat be notified in writing via US Mail.
  • If 20% of the owners object, the re-plat must win the approval of 3/5ths of the planning commission.
  • The developer proves there is adequate existing or planned infrastructure to support the new development.
  • The new subdivision will not adversely affect health, safety traffic, parking, drainage, water, sewer, or other utilities
  • The development will not have a materially adverse effect on existing single-family property values.
  • The new plat complies with all applicable land-use regulations and restrictive covenants and the City’s land-use policies.

That’s a lot to do over the holidays. So the general plan may need to be withdrawn and resubmitted after all the information has been produced. We should know more by Wednesday afternoon.

3. Dredging

Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin’s January newsletter stated that Disaster Recover Corporation has removed 385,000 cubic yards from the West Fork Mouth Bar out of an estimated total of 400,000 cubic yards.

Then he alluded to dredging another 260,000 cubic yards from the area north of the mouth bar.

He also alluded to a Second Phase: dredging the San Jacinto East Fork and other locations in Lake Houston.

Finally, Martin discussed maintenance dredging. “Additionally,” he says, “during Phase Two of the project, City of Houston, Harris County, HCFCD, SJRA, and Coastal Water Authority (CWA) will develop and execute a plan for the City of Houston or CWA to assume long-term dredging operations on Lake Houston. This effort will include determining funding for dredging operations in perpetuity.”

4. Appointments to SJRA Board

Governor Greg Abbott has appointed Wil Faubel and Rick Mora, M.D. and reappointed Kaaren Cambio to the San Jacinto River Authority Board of Directors. Their terms will expire on October 16, 2025. 

Kaaren Cambio of Kingwood is a field representative for United States Congressman Dan Crenshaw. She is a former member of Women’s Business Enterprise National Investment Recovery Association, Pipeline Contractors Association, and the Houston Pipeliners Association. Cambio received a Bachelor of Business Administration from San Diego State University.

Wil Faubel of Montgomery is President of Borets US Inc. He is a veteran and senior executive in the Oilfield Services industry with more than forty years of service. He has both domestic and international experience and is a lifelong member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers and a former board member of the Petroleum Equipment Suppliers Association. Faubel received a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Southern Methodist University.

Rick Mora, M.D. of The Woodlands is a partner at US Anesthesia Partners and Chief of Anesthesiology for Memorial Hermann Pinecoft Surgery Center. He has served as chair of the Montgomery County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and is a founding Board member of the non-profit, Los Doctores de The Woodlands. Mora received his MD from the University Of Illinois College Of Medicine.

5. Forest Cove Townhome Buyouts

Harris County Commissioner’s Court will vote today on an item to exercise eminent domain on seven townhomes in the Forest Cove complex. The entire complex was destroyed after Harvey and many owners simply walked away from their properties without leaving forwarding addresses. Flood Control has been unable to find the owners after years of trying. Several may have moved out of the country. Eminent domain on these last few properties will clear the way for demolition of the entire complex and restoration of the area to nature or park land.

The once proud and idyllic townhomes in Forest Cove next to West Fork.

6. Woodridge Village

The purchase of Woodridge Village from Perry Homes is not on today’s Commissioner’s Court Agenda. However, all energies are reportedly still positive. It’s just taking time to work out the complex three-way purchase arrangements.

7. Romerica

Houston PlatTracker shows that the Romerica people may have acquired more land. But so far, they have not returned to the planning commission for approval on the latest iteration of the developer’s plans. No news is good news in this case.

8. Lake Houston Spillway Improvement Project

The City is close to finalizing the Preliminary Engineering Plan. Sources say the benefit/cost ratio looks very positive. We may see the final recommendations this month.

Engineers have examined several alternatives to add more gates to the Lake Houston dam or to increase its spillway capacity.

9. Noxxe Cleanup

The Railroad Commission could start plugging wells, removing storage tanks, and cleaning up the abandoned Noxxe lease in Forest Cove soon. The project manager has submitted work orders for final approval.

Small part of Noxxe lease next to Forest Cove baseball fields.

10. Kings Harbor New Construction

New condos are going up in Kings Harbor faster than Flood Control can tear down the ones in Forest Cove down. And they’re even closer to the river!

See new concrete pads (left center) and new construction (right foreground).

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/5/2020

1125 Days after 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.

Railroad Commission To Start Bidding Cleanup of Forest Cove Oilfields, Even as They Battle Thieves

When Noxxe Oil & Gas declared bankruptcy in February of this year, the company left behind dozens of pump jacks, tanks, trucks and other pieces of oilfield equipment that Harvey destroyed in Forest Cove. The Texas Railroad Commission (TRRC) seized the assets but has been slow to clean up the mess. As a result, thieves and TRRC are now engaged in a low-stakes game of tug-of-war – to the victor goes the scrap metal. But the TRRC says it will soon start a cleanup of this site.

Vultures Picking Over Noxxe’s Bones

I ran a story several weeks ago about this heating tower on Marina Drive in Forest Cove. I’ve nicknamed Marina Drive “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” That’s because of the dozens of townhomes destroyed there by Harvey.

Towers like the one below separate oil, gas and water. I had photographed it several times. Then, about a month ago, I noticed it toppled.

The 23-foot tower in question before it toppled. Abandoned after Harvey, it became property of the state after Noxxe’s bankruptcy.

I thought the tower had “fallen.” But an astute TRRC investigator pointed out the steel wire draped over the top of the tank below.

It did not fall down. Someone pulled it down and attempted to drag it off. Photo taken in mid-September.
23 feet of 1.5 inch steel

After a couple cases of beer, I’m sure Jim Bob and Bubba felt this would be pretty light work. But the tower is made out of solid steel that is 1.5 inches thick – about the thickness of Jim Bob’s and Bubba’s brains put together. They had to abandon their efforts – until they got more beer.

Tower in a Tug of War

The thieves later came back and managed to drag the hefty tower into the middle of Marina Drive. See below.

It should be easy tracking down the thieves. Just look for oil stains on the carpet.

But according to the Railroad Commission, the tower weighs 6-8 tons.

Close up shot from the other direction.

“Think that will fit into the trunk, Jim Bob?”

The tower weighs more than two F150s plus a dozen rib dinners from Dickey’s. Translation: that ain’t fitting in the trunk…or a U-Haul, no matter how much beer they brought along. It would squash the tires like roaches.

When notified that the unit was blocking the Boulevard of Broken Dreams and putting dopers in danger, TRRC returned with a tractor and a winch. They tried to haul it off, too, but gave up when it nearly broke the winch. They determined that only a crane will lift it. So they pushed the heater treater back near its original pad. See below.

Back where it started. Photo taken 10/13/2020.

Art of Jungle Warfare Elevated

TRRC then mined the area with thousands of razor-sharp brambles; sweet-gum balls; and twisted, torn chain link fencing. Steel-toed shoes are no match. These defenses could even take out the tires of a dually.

Someone may yet steal this steel. But they will pay a heavy price. TRRC has taken jungle warfare to the next level. Ho Chi Minh could have learned a thing or two from the Railroad Commission.

Forest Cove Cleanup Now Named a Priority Project

According to Dean Southward, the TRRC District Cleanup Coordinator, Noxxe’s Forest Cove Properties have been elevated to the status of a priority project. The Commission’s budget has recycled and Southward says he will soon start bidding the cleanup. Forest Cove homeowners and Little League players will rejoice. Maybe we will hear the Hallelujah Chorus playing by Christmas.

In the meantime, folks, unless you have a very good chiropractor, stay away from the Noxxe Lease.

Thanks to Dan Huberty for his help in getting the TRRC to name this a priority.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/14/2020

1142 Days after 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.

Close-Up Photos of Noxxe’s Devastation

The oil and gas company with the joke name (Exxon spelled backwards) is no joking matter. After flooding from Hurricane Harvey, Noxxe left a mile-long trail of devastation in Forest Cove for taxpayers to clean up. The company’s toxic legacy includes dozens of abandoned wells, toppled tanks, and twisted, rusting, ruptured pipes – all in the floodway of the San Jacinto River West Fork, which supplies drinking water to two million people.

Meeting with Texas Railroad Commission

After a series of posts on this subject, I received a call from the Texas Railroad Commission (TRRC). TRRC took control of Noxxe’s operation after the company went bankrupt in February.

Sign posted on entry to Noxxe lease

The Commission’s District Cleanup Coordinator invited me to tour the site with him and discuss the status of cleanup. There’s good news and bad.

Good News

  • Tanks have been drained of toxic chemicals.
  • Some wells have been plugged.
  • TRCC believes the oil spilled on the ground will degrade naturally.
  • A small check dam should keep oil-contaminated rainwater from washing into the river (except in floods).

Bad News

  • Many of the wells have NOT been plugged.
  • Oil has spilled on the ground.
  • Rusting, oil-covered equipment litters the property.
  • Legally, the state has no recourse against the company’s management or the property owners.
  • The State Comptroller’s Office has taken over bidding for cleanup jobs like this, but reportedly has no specialists in toxic waste cleanup.
  • The Comptroller’s Office has reportedly established an “approved vendor list” for these jobs, but the list doesn’t have enough vendors to handle all the work needed in the State.
  • TRRC has no budget to handle the Noxxe job and may not get it.
  • Thieves steal equipment with salvage value.
  • Brine (saltwater produced with oil and gas) has contaminated many parts of the site, killing vegetation.

Ground-Level Photos

These photos represent only a small portion of the site. But I’m sure you get the picture.

Editorial Opinion

Texas and Texans make their living from minerals. But left like this, those minerals may be the death of us, too. Noxxe has given a black eye to the entire oil and gas industry, which has thousands of reputable companies and millions of hard-working people in Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/26/2020

1125 Days after 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.

More Harvey Destruction Becomes Apparent

More than three years after Hurricane Harvey, the storm’s destruction seems to keep widening. A helicopter flight down the West Fork of the San Jacinto this week revealed a recently toppled tank; abandoned equipment; and leaking, abandoned wells, one less than five feet from the river.

Recently Toppled Tank

The toppled tank, likely a dehydrator or separator, ripped pipes out of the ground when it fell and crashed through a fence. See photos below.

Tank on right BEFORE it fell. Photo taken 6/27/2020. Tank was already leaning in the direction it fell. See photos below.
Photo of same tank (upper left) taken on Friday, 9/11/2020. Abandoned townhomes in foreground on Marina Drive, which curves in front of tanks.
Photo of same tank taken from ground level on 9/12/2020. Tank smashed through a fence when it fell.
Reverse angle shows base and ruptured lines. Note thickness of steel. This tank had to weigh thousands of pounds.

More Abandoned, Damaged Tanks

A hunt for more wells and tanks in the area revealed dozens that have been abandoned. Some have already toppled. Some are leaking. Most are rusting. Many have shifted off their foundations. And all are surrounded by abandoned equipment and weeds.

This tank was lifted and shifted off its foundation by Harvey.
Note how tank on top right floated from its original position in flood.
More tanks floated off their original positions by Harvey.

Abandoned, Leaking Wells

I also spotted 11 abandoned wells in the area east of Forest Cove Drive near the river, several of them leaking oil.

Abandoned wells by Marina Drive (right) and Aqua Vista Street (left) in Forest Cove near townhome complex destroyed by Harvey.

Property of the State

Noxxe Petroleum, the Company that owned most (if not all) of these wells and tanks, went bankrupt in February after lengthy legal battles with the State. Those battles started even before Harvey. As early as 2009, shortly after incorporation. Since the company’s bankruptcy, the State has seized the wells and equipment. And the company lost its charter in a tax forfeiture.

Notice posted on gate of Noxxe lease.

Railroad Commission lists Noxxe as the operator on dozens of other wells that are NOT visible from the air. Many have already been plugged. But many are also listed as still operating even though the lease has been abandoned. And some of those, like the tanks are leaking oil.

Source: Texas Railroad Commission. Noxxe is listed as operator on virtually all the “active” wells north of the river.

This Harvey destruction is going to be a huge cleanup job costing millions of taxpayer dollars. The Railroad Commission said, however, that it could not start work on the property until its budget recycled in the fall. Fall is about a month away. Take note.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/12/2020

1110 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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.