Texas Legislature Allows Saltwater Pipeline Operators to Build Pipelines Along Public Roadways for Disposal of Fracking and Other Drilling Wastewater

By Jillian Marullo

Senate Bill 514, signed into law on June 14, 2013, authorizes saltwater pipeline operators in Texas “to install, maintain, and operate” saltwater pipelines “through, under, along, across, or over a public road” in order to transport the wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing operations to disposal sites. The bill, which was introduced by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, received widespread support from environmental groups and the energy industry alike, including groups as diverse as the Sierra Club and the Texas Oil and Gas Association, and was unanimously approved by the Senate.

SB 514 was enacted to ease the burden placed on public roads by trucks transporting oil and gas waste produced by hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) is a drilling process whereby water mixed with small amounts of chemicals and sand is injected under extreme pressure into deep underground rock formations to fracture the rock in order to break up the trapped oil and gas deposits and aid in their flow to the surface. A large portion of the millions of gallons of freshwater used in fracking operations returns to the surface as wastewater, along with the highly saline water contained in the formations.

The wastewater produced at fracking production sites is generally disposed of in underground disposal or injection wells. According to the Railroad Commission of Texas, there are more than 50,000 injection and disposal wells in Texas, with approximately 35,000 actively servicing the more than 295,000 active drilling wells. Currently, vacuum trucks are used to transport the millions of gallons of fracking wastewater generated at production sites to disposal or injection wells. This truck traffic has damaged roads, particularly those in rural counties. In an effort to address community concerns over the use of roadways by heavy trucks, the Texas legislature passed SB 514 to shift the transportation of fracking wastewater from the roads to pipelines, reducing the need for overweight trucks.

SB 514 expands the use of saltwater pipelines to haul fracking wastewater from drill sites to disposal wells by providing the energy industry with a right-of-way to place new saltwater pipelines along public roads, eliminating the need to construct saltwater pipelines over private land. The bill amends Chapter 91 of the Natural Resources Code to allow “a saltwater pipeline operator to install, maintain, and operate a saltwater pipeline . . . through, under, along, across, or over a public road” if the pipeline facility complies with applicable Texas Transportation Commission and county and municipal regulations regarding the accommodation of utility facilities on public roads. In addition, the pipeline operator must “promptly restore[]” the road to its “former condition of usefulness” after the installation or maintenance of the pipeline. The pipeline operator must lease the right-of-way and pay the government the fair market value of the operator’s use of the right-of-way. The bill also provides that a pipeline operator may be required, on 30 days’ notice, to relocate a pipeline.

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