Old oil and gas lines present boating hazard in Galveston Bay

Redfish Reef in Galveston Bay
August 23, 2013 6:13:24 PM PDT
What once lurked beneath Galveston Bay is surfacing, and now at least one fishermen is crying foul. We're talking about exposed pipes, once connected to gas or oil lines, now sitting above the surface, creating a treacherous maze for those who navigate the waters in one part of Galveston Bay.

Dave Foreman is out on the Galveston Bay every day and he has been for years. He's a commercial fishing guide and this summer he's fighting way more than the fish below the surface.

Dave told us he hit a pipe in the bay, it poked a hole in the hull of his boat and he was stuck.

"It was like being connected with a bungee cord to the bottom," he said.

Dave says the damage cost him thousands of dollars to fix.

There are thousands of pipes in the bay. The oil business has been here since the 1930s.

Dave asked us to see what he was talking about, and since a bad day in a boat beats a good day in the office, we took him up on the offer for a boat ride, not knowing what we would see.

Dave said, "It kind of makes my stomach churn, coming back to this spot."

When we got close to the spot where Dave says he hit the pipe, it wasn't only one pipe. We counted 22. It's an old oil and gas line that was likely dredged up by an oysterman.

We found one 10 feet above the water line, and another covered by only six inches of water. A Loch Ness monster looking thing loops up and down for yards. None are leaking, but they sure look dangerous to anyone out on the water.

"This is not out of bounds," Dave said. "This is navigable water."

Maybe he was showing us something an expert wouldn't be concerned about.

"This is bad," said Tony Williams with the Texas General Land Office.

Williams is that expert, though, and he is concerned.

"There might be a place this bad, but I haven't seen it," Williams said.

We approached Jeremy Driver, the CEO of Galveston Bay Energy, about the problem. That's the company making money from the wells in the area.

"Two guys from GLO told me it's the worst they've ever seen," we said when we spoke a couple of weeks ago.

"That's true," Driver responded.

We wanted to know, "So why aren't you rushing to repair that?"

"They're aware of the problem," Driver said.

We said, "But it's your problem."

"It's been a problem in this field for years," Driver said.

Driver acknowledged there were nearly two dozen pipes sticking out of the water in and around the part of the bay his company controls. But he says based on the GPS coordinates Foreman provided, Driver thinks Dave Foreman hit someone else's pipe, just outside his lease.

"We're not responsible for any of his damages," Driver said.

When we first spoke with Driver weeks ago, he said he wasn't feeling any pressure to get the pipes fixed.

"The state has not pressed us very hard to correct this problem," he said.

Sad, but true, at least as far as we can tell. At first the Railroad Commission tried to say it wasn't even their problem. But once we got involved, both the Texas Railroad Commission and the General Land Office cited the company for violations and insisted it get fixed.

As for Galveston Bay Energy, they say they've already removed 34 pipes.

"We're willing to go do the work, but we want assurances from the state that they're going to actually enforce the policies," Driver said.

The company wants state or federal agencies to keep oyster boats from dredging them up again like they have in the past. Driver says fixing this problem every year is too expensive.

He said, "If we were to go in after every single instance of these boaters pulling up our lines, and it's criminal, it becomes completely uneconomic for us to operate in the field."

There's no provision in state law we can find that would allow the energy company to close the area to fishing.

As for Dave, he said, "We don't mind the well heads and the platforms, but we want the spears removed."

Dave is still fighting with the company over whose pipe he hit. The work to remove the pipes we saw is already underway.

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