BC homeowner sues pipeline company
There is no question the petrochemical industry helped build Southeast Texas. But on the flip side of that, residents sometimes don’t know what kind of substances are in the air we breathe or what lies just under our feet.
Take for example Russell Theis of Bridge City who purchased his home a year-and-a-half ago.
Theis discovered an unmarked pipeline running through his lot next to his home at 181 Ridgewood while digging for a swimming pool. What he discovered was a 12.75 inch in diameter natural gas pipeline owned by Kinder Morgan Tejas. The pipeline runs from upper Dayton in Liberty County to DuPont plant in Orange on Chemical Row.
“They’re supposed to run so deep but this one is pretty close to the surface,” he said. “It’s live and hot as hell. The pipelines are not marked at all. I want to make the public aware and this is all about the neighbors in the subdivision..”
Theis began working for Gulf Oil Company in 1970 and retired from Chevron at age 49 when they bought out Gulf. He spent 28 years in the petrochemical industry. Now he’s in real estate.
He added the pipeline is explosive. They were originally laid in 1948. The Oak View Addition where Theis lives was built in 1957.
A representative with Kinder Morgan said the company does not comment on pending litigation.
Health and safety issues in the Oak View Addition
“I wouldn’t buy a house with a pipeline running underneath it,” he said.
It runs from the north to Interstate 10, crosses FM 408, comes over to Connecticut St., to FM 1442, to SH 87, to DuPont.
The lines are 18-inches deep and suppose to be three feet on the run, four feet under the road bearing weight.
In addition to the possibility of an explosion, Theis said his wife has been “very, very sick” since moving there over a year ago. She has polymyositis. It’s ironic just one street over the man has the same thing. Everyone I’ve talked to out there have the same symptoms my wife- bladder, lung or brain. It’s a muscle-wasting disease. It’s all documented at Methodist Hospital in Houston,” he said. “I’m not saying the pipeline caused all of this. Just saying what I know. I’ll Tell you what I know. she has Sjogren’s- muscular-skeletal disease, myasthenia gravis, too, and lupus. To have anyone one of these disease is bad and to have all four is really bad. She spends 50 percent of her time in bed. It all happened last year. We’ll go to Kroger’s and wipes her out. She’s only 64.”
Theis, as a result, filed a lawsuit on May 5 against Kinder Morgan Tejas Pipeline, LLC in the district courts of Orange County.
Polymyositis is an uncommon inflammatory disease that causes muscle weakness affecting both sides of the body, according to the Mayo Clinic website. Polymyositis can make it difficult to climb stairs, rise from a seated position, lift objects or reach overhead.
Polymyositis most commonly affects adults in their 30s, 40s or 50s. It’s more common in blacks than in whites, and women are affected more often than men. Polymyositis signs and symptoms usually develop gradually, over weeks or months.
While there is no cure for polymyositis, treatment — ranging from medications to physical therapy — can improve muscle strength and function.
Sjogren’s syndrome is a disorder of the immune system identified by its two most common symptoms — dry eyes and a dry mouth.
Sjogren’s syndrome often accompanies other immune system disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. In Sjogren’s syndrome, the mucous membranes and moisture-secreting glands of the eyes and mouth are usually affected first — resulting in decreased production of tears and saliva.
Although one can develop Sjogren’s syndrome at any age, most people are older than 40 at the time of diagnosis. The condition is much more common in women. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms.
Myasthenia gravis is characterized by weakness and rapid fatigue of any of the muscles under your voluntary control. Myasthenia gravis is caused by a breakdown in the normal communication between nerves and muscles.
There is no cure for myasthenia gravis, but treatment can help relieve signs and symptoms, such as weakness of arm or leg muscles, double vision, drooping eyelids, and difficulties with speech, chewing, swallowing and breathing.
Though myasthenia gravis can affect people of any age, it’s more common in women younger than 40 and in men older than 60.
Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks their own tissues and organs. Inflammation caused by lupus can affect many different body systems — including joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs.
Lupus can be difficult to diagnose because its signs and symptoms often mimic those of other ailments. The most distinctive sign of lupus — a facial rash that resembles the wings of a butterfly unfolding across both cheeks — occurs in many but not all cases of lupus.
Some people are born with a tendency toward developing lupus, which may be triggered by infections, certain drugs or even sunlight. While there’s no cure for lupus, treatments can help control symptoms.
“Every family who touches my lots have lost a spouse. Cancer clusters are off the charts. Lots of people have headaches, muscle aches, and diarrhea,” he said.
Another indication was when Theis had his house tested for mold in 2010 by ASC Services. The CO2 reading inside was 1,591 and 450 outside. That’s when he said he discovered the source for the high readings was the Kinder Morgan pipeline.
Background of the Oak View Addition
Oak View Addition got its start when Percy Hatton sold 350 acres to developer Alvin Keown in 1957. Theis said everyone signed off and blessed it.
The chain of ownership is Jefferson Pipeline in 1948.
Theis took drawing of the subdivision to engineers in Orange. One map shows the course of the pipeline. He added he spoke with the Orange County Appraisal District officials and the Keown Estate supports Theis’s claim.
“Back then was Texas Gas Company. It is now Kinder-Morgan Tejas,” he said.
Theis’s house lies on lot 165 of the map, and the adjacent vacant lot where swimming pool would go is 164.
“Subdivision built on top of the pipeline. Runs under 35 houses. It’s an old Gulf Oil Corp oil field. They knew this in 1954,” he said. “The only sign you’ll see are two signs at a ditch.
“A neighbor had his house for sale. He didn’t know a pipeline ran underneath his house. Nobody knows because it’s been a big hush-hush secret.”
One neighbor who stayed at his home through Hurricane Ike said the water and land bubbled the entire time it was covered with water.
Theis was also told every water well in the addition burns.
“Some neighbors say they can water their grass, throw a match on it and it will burn,” he said.
Theis asked Kinder Morgan to come to his lot and mark the course of the pipeline with wooden stakes. The workers marked the line with a rod before something interesting happened.
Their eyes got big; mine too. It was only 18 inches deep. It’s suppose to be three feet on the run, four feet under the road bearing weight,” he said.
The developers didn’t know where the roads would be when they built the subdivision, so pipes are covered if they went under the roads.
Theis said a document he discovered at the Orange County Courthouse doing research states the partial release of easement by Kinder Morgan in 2008. The first page relieves them of the right of way. The second page takes it back.
The document was sent to the property owner prior to Theis moving there.
“Kinder Morgan is trespassing on my property. I sent to it to Kinder Morgan; they never called back,” Theis said.
Texas has 43,000 miles of intrastate natural gas pipelines, more than any state, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Likewise, their website reads Kinder Morgan Tejas Pipeline LLC, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, L.P, is a full-service system with approximately 3,400 miles of pipeline. It operates a major intrastate pipeline system located primarily along the Texas Gulf Coast which transports, purchases and sells natural gas in the Texas Intrastate market. Tejas also offers Firm and Interruptible Sale, Purchase, Transportation and Storage Services.
The ultimate environmental disaster
One environmental mishap that comes to mind that occurred over 30 years ago was the Love Canal tragedy in Upstate New York near Niagara Falls.
In an article titled “The Love Canal Tragedy” by Eckardt C. Beck in the EPA Journal of January 1979, it reads:
“Quite simply, Love Canal is one of the most appalling environmental tragedies in American history.
But that’s not the most disturbing fact.
What is worse is that it cannot be regarded as an isolated event. It could happen again–anywhere in this country–unless we move expeditiously to prevent it.”
It started in the 1920s the seeds of a genuine nightmare were planted, according to the article. The canal was turned into a municipal and industrial chemical dump site.
Landfills can of course be an environmentally acceptable method of hazardous waste disposal, assuming they are properly sited, managed, and regulated. Love Canal will always remain a perfect historical example of how not to run such an operation.
In 1953, the Hooker Chemical Company, then the owners and operators of the property, covered the canal with earth and sold it to the city for one dollar.
It was a bad buy.
In the late ‘50s, about 100 homes and a school were built at the site.
On the first day of August, 1978, the lead paragraph of a front-page story in the New York Times read:
NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y.–Twenty five years after the Hooker Chemical Company stopped using the Love Canal here as an industrial dump, 82 different compounds, 11 of them suspected carcinogens, have been percolating upward through the soil, their drum containers rotting and leaching their contents into the backyards and basements of 100 homes and a public school built on the banks of the canal.
Ten years after the incident, New York State Health Department Commissioner David Axelrod stated that Love Canal would long be remembered as a “national symbol of a failure to exercise a sense of concern for future generations.”
Some of the health issues at Love Canal were miscarriages, birth defects and leukemia.
Children were born deaf with a cleft palate, an extra row of teeth, eye defects or slight retardation from benzene, a know human carcinogen. Two hundred twenty-one families moved out in 1979. The New York state government purchased 200 homes for nearly $7 million.
One similar local case was what happened to the Fairlea Addition in Groves 20 years ago.
Present-day refinery operators at Total Petrochemical have worked to overcome unauthorized emissions, particularly after a difficult stretch in the early 1990s when Fairlea residents sued Fina (the refinery there before Total), contending repeated emissions sickened and endangered them.
Fina offered a buyout program, which most residents eventually took. Some opted to move their homes, particularly if the structures were pier and beam. Other houses were left to be bulldozed, their concrete foundations and driveways ripped up, according to the September 14, 2011 Beaumont Enterprise article.
The whistle blower
“I’m a whistle blower,” Theis said. “The Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 says a whistle blower is a person who exposes misconduct, alleged dishonest or illegal activity occurring in an organization- violation of law, rule, regulation and/or a direct threat to the public interest, such as fraud, health and safety violations, and corruption.
The whistle blower may make their alleged allegations internally or externally to other people, within the accused organization or externally to regulators, law enforcement agencies, to the media or to groups concerned with the issues.”
The procedure for a whistle blower is to notify the local police department first and then a federal agency.
Theis’s attorney is Tony Buzbee of Houston. Some of his prior cases dealt with the Ford Explorer rollover and BP fire.
Buzbee told Theis he would do his lawsuit first, and then bring at least 75 to 100 cases from there.
Theis said he saw some Kinder Morgan trucks at K-Dan’s Super Foods in Orangefield several months ago. The crew was cutting the line there to abandon it. They then came to his home. The crew’s inspector came with eight guys saw the stakes and asked if that was where line was?
“They own it cradle to grave. They can’t walk away from it. The pipeline companies don’t track abandoned lines,” he said.
One city employee told Theis he’s the only one he’s seen to come this close to busting this wide open.
Theis said one incident after Kinder Morgan refused to mark his neighbor’s line when he sold his house.
“The guy speed dials his boss. He’s nervous. He accidentally called back my neighbor and thought he was spilling his guts to his boss. ‘I’m not going out there to the pipeline and showing somebody else….’ My neighbor asked ‘Do you know who you’re talking to?’”
Theis said he knows as a real estate agent title companies have to buy the house, by law, if they didn’t inform homeowners about an issue.
According to the Texas Department of Insurance, for instance, owner policies protect property owners from the risks listed in the policy. When the owner buys a house and purchases a loan policy, a title company will automatically issue an owner policy unless the owner specifically rejects it in writing. The price of the policy is usually included in closing costs.
An owner policy only covers up to the value of the property at the time the policy was bought. It doesn’t cover any increase in the property’s value, unless owner buys an increased value endorsement.
An owner policy remains in effect as long as the owner or their heirs own the property or are liable for any title warranties made when one sells the property. The owner policy should be kept, even if the title is transferred or the property is sold.