Construction has been halted on a section of the Kinder Morgan Inc. (KMI) Permian Highway natural gas pipeline after an underground spill of drilling fluid occurred in late March in Blanco County, TX.

The fluid is composed of water mixed primarily with bentonite clay, “a naturally occurring, nonhazardous, nontoxic clay,” and sand, according to spokeswoman Katherine Hill. The fluid is not classified as harmful if it is ingested and it poses no known risks to drinking water, Hill said. The fluid also is used to drill drinking water wells.

Although work has been suspended at the Blanco Horizontal Directional Drill site, other construction activities on the 430-mile pipeline and compressor stations are continuing as planned while KMI works with landowners to address their needs, according to Hill. The company is offering food, clean water and other accommodations, and is consulting with its karst expert and the local water district manager “to determine the best way to mitigate any current and future impacts.”

Meanwhile, all appropriate regulatory agencies have been notified of the incident, and the pipeline remains on schedule for an early 2021 in-service date, Hill said.

“We will continue to work with landowners to address their needs until this situation is fully resolved,” Hill told NGI. “We strive for zero incidents and minimal environmental impact on all of our construction projects.”

Days before the incident, a federal court denied a preliminary injunction filed by opponents of the 2 Bcf/d pipeline who have argued that the planned route through the iconic Texas Hill Country would travel through “sensitive environmental features, including the Edwards and Trinity Aquifer recharge zones as well as habitat for many endangered species,” including the golden-cheeked warbler, the Houston toad and the Tobusch fishhook cactus.

Opponents of Permian Highway, including the cities of Austin and San Marcos, as well as Hays and Travis counties, the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District and some landowners, also filed a temporary restraining order against the pipeline, but that too was denied by the court. KMI separately is facing a lawsuit filed by landowners related to the U.S. Endangered Species Act.