As of mid-September, 2016, many Big Bend area residents are aware of the on-the-ground construction activities associated with the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, a project of Energy Transfer Partners, Mas-Tech, Inc., and Carso Energy.
Construction is now active from the northern origin of the pipeline system near Coyanosa, Texas, to the southern United States terminus of the project, and the so-called “jurisdictional facilities”, along the International border, the Rio Grande, 12milesnorth-northwest of Presidio, Texas.
Right-of-way clearing has occurred on approximately one-half of the total 143-mile route, pipe segments have been strung along the construction easement, welding is in progress on some spreads, horizontal directional drilling (HDD) bore operations are in progress at some road, and highway crossings. Residents of Brewster and Presidio counties, especially in the Alpine, Marfa, and Presidio environs will likely see most clearly the direct impact of these activities.
On the legal front, after FERC’s grant of the permit package, and completion of the United States Army Corps of Engineers Nation-Wide Permit 12 blanket authorization, construction activity began in earnest. Some 39 land owners in Brewster, Pecos, and Presidio counties underwent administrative phase eminent domain condemnation hearings, in which Special Commissioners awarded damages, in some cases in excess of 30X the offers made to the landowners by Trans-Pecos Pipeline LLC. The company is appealing in the second, judicial phase of these proceedings these awards, which will tie landowners up for as long as two years.
In one case, in Presidio County, a ranch owner filed for emergency relief in Federal court, challenging the company’s right to condemn –that injunctive relief was denied in the courts, and the rancher’s counsel have appealed in Federal appellate courts in the Fifth Circuit.
In all likelihood, despite actions in the courts and pending litigation, construction activity will continue unabated and the pipeline will be operational during the first quarter of 2017.
Citizens of the region, supported by concerned individuals and organizations across Texas and the nation, exercised all avenues of due-process afforded them under the law. They raised awareness in the national and international media. These dedicated and concerned individuals spoke out, acted, and provided an unprecedented response in opposing the Trans-Pecos Pipeline. Concerns regarding environmental, cultural, socioeconomic impacts, public safety, and a host of other issues were researched, and these concerns were placed on the record at the state, and federal level. Despite this, powerful, monied interests, an un-level legal, and regulatory playing field, the deaf ears of regulatory agencies, and our government representatives, save for a very few, we were ignored.
The Big Bend Conservation Alliance (BBCA), partner organizations including Defend Big Bend, local, and state chapters of the Sierra Club, and citizens near, far, and wide participated in the opposition. Along the way, based on experience, research, and nationwide outreach, we learned of additional, and in some cases larger, more significant threats to the region:
– follow-on pipeline projects, including expansion of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline system, related to cross-border energy exports, attempting to exploit the market
– expansion of transportation and utility corridor infrastructure, including rail, highway, and electrical transmission grid, in the continued regional threat represented by the La Entrada al Pacifico project
– expansion of low-level, radioactive waste storage and disposal facilities, in West Texas, and addition of high-level radioactive waste storage facilities in the region
– the threat of increased industrialization, related to oil and gas extraction activity in the southern Delaware basin, potentially impacting the whole of the Big Bend with thousands of oil & gas wells, unconstrained use of, and potential contamination of scarce water resources, oilfield traffic, crime, environmental impact, and cultural/socioeconomic impact
– threats of water mining on scarce resources, from El Paso to the west, and the Midland-Odessa region to the north, exports of water outside the region for oil and gas use, etc.
– fracking wells drilled and mineral rights controlled at Balmorhea putting the water security of a town and the habitat for endangered species at risk
The numerous threats–complex, impactful, seemingly endless–loom to change the Big Bend region, transforming it permanently. Those who threaten the region remain largely unchecked, unconstrained in their revenue and profit-driven activities. Some of these threats refuse to die, for example La Entrada al Pacifico, defeated at least once, but rearing its ugly head once again, under the cover of political darkness at the state level.
Profiteers see the region as a “wasteland,” they see its people as sparse, poor, powerless, uneducated, and thus ripe to exploit.
The BBCA, other local and regional organizations, and the individuals of the Big Bend–as well as those who may reside elsewhere, but love this place–must face the reality now before us, the reality of these broader threats. These looming issues have now transcended a single pipeline, our opposing one project, focusing on just one consortium of profiteers –we now face the challenge of regional threats on many fronts, led by multiple billionaires, and multi-billion dollar corporations.
If these projects are allowed to continue unopposed, they will transform the Big Bend into a true wasteland, undifferentiated from the all-too-common industrialized areas we have seen elsewhere–devoid of the wild, natural beauty of what we know now as the last true frontier.
The BBCA intends to stay in the game for the long haul, working to preserve the last frontier. In preparing for this next chapter, we have identified four program areas that will be of utmost importance in strengthening the region against future threats. They are:
2) Dark Skies
3) Land Use and Conservation
4) Cultural Resources
We have already begun education, outreach and preservation in each of these categories by:
- raising awareness of eminent domain abuse,
- providing workshops on light pollution and water,
- partnering with area water conservation districts and engaging with local activists in the town of Balmorhea to education the public about the risks associated with fracking,
- partnering with the Presidio County Historical Commission and the Center for Big Bend Studies (CBBS) at Sul Ross State University, among others, to revive the Ruidosa Church restoration project and
- assisting with on-site monitoring and raising awareness around/cataloging archaeological sites threatened by the Trans-Pecos Pipeline,
- and there is more to come.
Each of us can make a difference. Our individual contribution of time, our connections to other people, our ability to support organizations who stand to help the region, our ability to vote on the basis of important issues, to effect regulatory, legislative, and political reform are key –these are the tools we have at our disposal. Our time, intellect, emotion, and financial support are the things we have at hand to defend ourselves, our homes, and the region we love: the Big Bend.