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New pipeline rerouted off aquifer

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Fears about a crude oil pipeline cutting through the west end of Bandera County and across the environmentally sensitive Edwards Aquifer and its recharge zone have evaporated now that the Houston pipeline company that proposed the project has agreed to move it off the aquifer.

Enterprise Products Partners L.P. of Houston issued a press release through its wholly owned affiliate M2E4 LLC last week saying that it had long-term agreements allowing it to expand its crude oil pipeline system from Midland to its Eagle Ford distribution system in South Texas but that the new line would avoid the Edwards Aquifer along with its recharge and contributing zones.

That was good news to the Bandera Canyonlands Alliance, a 12-year-old organization dedicated to preserving the rich ecological system in western Bandera County and eastern Real County that was one of the first groups alerted to the development of the pipeline, and the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, which concentrates on the protection of the Edwards Aquifer whose vast underground reservoirs provide almost all of the drinking water for the City of San Antonio and close to 2 million Central Texas residents.

“The alliance considers it a done deal,” said Beyrl Armstrong, who chairs the alliance’s Rapid Response Committee. “(The initial route) was not the appropriate place to put a pipeline, and the company agreed to shift the line to the south and west.”

Annalisa Peace, the executive director of the alliance, said she was “very relieved” to hear the planned pipeline was moving off the segment of the Edwards Aquifer that was tied to San Antonio, but she worried that the new route could have impacts on portions of the aquifer that reach out toward Del Rio and other western areas.

“I’d still like to see where it was rerouted,” Peace said.

Rick Rainey, Enterprise Products vice president of media relations, said discussions with landowners in the area where the pipeline was first considered convinced the energy services giant to find a different route for the line.

He said preliminary plans now call for a new pipeline to be constructed west of the aquifer before swinging south to link up with the transmission system in the area known as the Eagle Ford geological formation.

The specific route for the new line was still under review, but Rainey said, “We know we will avoid the aquifer.”

The aquifer and its recharge zone siphon off rainwater, springs and other surface water into an underground pool that curves gently from north of Austin to near Brackettville in Kinney County.

The 30-inch line originally proposed by Enterprise Products and its affiliate would have been the first pipeline transporting crude oil across the aquifer, critics said. They worried that a break in the line could cause contamination that would threaten San Antonio’s drinking water supply for years and damage the sensitive limestone formations that help fuel the region’s environmental diversity.

Armstrong said members of the canyonlands alliance became aware that a pipeline was being contemplated in western Bandera County last month when landowners started getting letters from landmen seeking permission for surveys needed by the pipeline.

About 20 people in the area reported getting letters, and “a super majority” of the people who support the canyonlands alliance did not want the pipeline to come through the area, said Armstrong, who once managed property in Real County and knows many area property owners.

The “Rivard Report” in San Antonio said it obtained a PowerPoint presentation from Enterprise Products showing the initial pipeline was planned to run from Midland County to Wilson County south of San Antonio, cutting across a portion of Bandera County and several surrounding counties.

Armstrong said the alliance was in the process of trying to identify more details about the pipeline’s route and whose land it needed to cross when it learned the route was being changed.

The pipeline was expected to be a focus of the alliance’s fall meeting, which will be held on Saturday, Oct. 12, at the Sabinal Senior Center in Utopia beginning at 10 a.m.

Armstrong said the pipeline will still be discussed at the meeting but with the purpose of seeing what the alliance can do to beef up the oversight of energy pipelines and to give landowners more tools to fight pipeline companies that are pursuing environmentally questionable projects.

The alliance also will examine other projects that have raised environmental concerns in the area, including plans by the developers of a Christian summer camp for a wastewater treatment plant on Commissioners Creek near Tarpley that have drawn loud criticism.

Enterprise Products, meanwhile, said in a news release that the rerouted pipeline, which will have an initial capacity of 450,000 barrels of oil a day that can be expanded up to 540,000 barrels a day, is expected to be ready for operation in the first half of 2021