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Lawsuit blames East Texas deer deaths on natural gas pipeline

December 19, 2018

A lawsuit filed in state district court in Harris County blames two emergency releases of natural gas along a major interstate pipeline for the deaths of nearly 40 trophy deer at a breeding facility near the Sam Houston National Forest.

The lawsuit, led by Liberty County landowners Monty Mullenix and Greg Buford, alleges that Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co, a subsidiary of the Houston pipeline company Kinder Morgan, flooded their properties with clouds of methane and other toxic gases during emergency shutdowns along the natural gas pipeline route near Cleveland. Buford, who owns the Grande Whitetails breeding facility, claims that the white-tailed deer — each with estimated worths in the tens of thousands of dollars — began to die shortly after the incidents

Kinder Morgan said there is no evidence that the emergencies released killed the deer, and blamed the deaths on a virus.

“Lab results on the deer tested to date confirmed that those deer died from epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD, a virus transmitted by small insects,” Kinder Morgan said in statement. “The company has worked, and continues to work, with the nearby landowners to remediate any impacts to their property. Tennessee Gas Pipeline has also offered to conduct additional testing at locations designated by the landowners.”

The releases occurred on Nov. 14 and Dec. 10, according to the lawsuit. Clean up crews dressed in hazmat suits used detergents such as Liquid Dawn and Simple Green to remove an oily mist that had settled on homes, cars, vegetation and swimming pools, according to court document.

Concerned about the animal deaths and the potential exposure of local residents to the gases, Mullenix and Buford enlisted two lawyers, Patrick Zummo of Houston and Micah Dortch, an attorney with Potts Law Firm in Dallas. The suit is seeking class action status to represent residents in the area.

“While this has been an awful tragedy for the animal population, what’s truly concerning are the potential health risks to people living in the area,” Dortch said in a statement. “We don’t know what those risks might be, and Kinder Morgan isn’t saying.”

Kinder Morgan said the Nov. 14 incident was caused by line sensor failure at a compressor station near Cleveland. The sensor failure activated the pipeline’s emergency shutdown system, which triggered a four-minute “blowdown” where natural gas and other products are vented to prevent a pipeline from becoming over pressurized and blowing up.

A Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company document shows that 565,000 cubic feet of natural gas and other similar compounds were released in the form of a “light mist” during the incident. The company notified seven landowners and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, even though the incident was below the state threshold for reporting to the state agency, according to Kinder Morgan.

Kinder Morgan reported that the residue removed by crews was tested and was determined to have no short-term or long-term impacts people or livestock.

The Dec. 10 incident, the company said, was related to scheduled maintenance at the compressor station. Although that work required another blowdown, Kinder Morgan said that the controlled venting ended without the release of any gas clouds.

Several of the deer bodies were preserved and examined by a veterinarian at Texas A&M University in College Station, both sides said. Kinder Morgan received full access and was allowed to use its own veterinarian, who, the company said, determined the deaths were caused by EHD virus.

Dortch, however, said the Buford already had an insect control plan in place for EHD and other diseases that affect deer breeding facilities. “The deer all died right after the release and there were no deaths before the release,” Dortch said.

Midstream: Kinder Morgan authorizes $2 billion Permian Highway Pipeline

sergio.chapa@chron.com

twitter.com/sergiochapa

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