Saturday, April 22, 2017
8am – 6pm * Free * Granada Theater in Alpine
April 23: Post-Symposium Field Trip
Visit aquatic treasures in the Balmorhea area with expert guides. RSVP required for field trip. Email email@example.com to reserve a spot.
COMPLETE SYMPOSIUM SCHEDULE
|8 – 8:50am||Meet and Greet with symposium participants, partners, and sponsors (coffee and pastries)|
|8:50 – 9am||Introduction to BBCA and symposium|
|9:00 – 9:40am||INTRODUCTION TO SURFACE WATER AND GROUNDWATER IN THE BIG BEND REGION
Kevin Urbanczyk, Rio Grande Research Center, Sul Ross State University Geology Dept.
|9:40 – 10am||BALMORHEA SPRINGS: THREATS FROM FRACKING
Jack Sharp, University of Texas at Austin, Carlton Professor of Geology
|10 – 10:20am||BASIN-WIDE CONSERVATION: A CASE STUDY OF TPWD’S WORK ON THE DEVIL’S RIVER
Sarah Robertson, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, River Studies Program biologist
|10:20 – 10:30am||Break|
|10:30 – 10:50am||Q&A with Jack Sharp and Sarah Robertson|
|10:50 – 11:30am||CONNNECTING WATER AND LAND MANAGEMENT
Bonnie Warnock, Sul Ross State University, Josey Chair for Sustainable Ranch Management, Natural Resource Management Dept. Chair
|11:30am – 1:10pm||Lunch break (light refreshments; list/map of other lunch locations provided)|
|1:10 – 2pm||TEXAS GROUNDWATER 101
Amy Hardberger, St. Mary’s University School of Law Associate Dean
|2 – 3:10pm||KEEPING TEXAS RIVERS FLOWING
Sharlene Leurig, The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, Texas Environmental Flows Initiative Project Director
|3:10 – 3:20pm||Break|
|3:20 – 3:40pm||GROUNDWATER CONSERVATION DISTRICTS: WHAT THEY DO & WHY THEY MATTER
Sarah Rountree Schlessinger, Texas Alliance of Groundwater Districts Executive Director
|3:40 – 4:20pm||Q&A with Sarah Schlessinger
GROUNDWATER CONSERVATION DISTRICT PANEL: regional GCD managers will discuss their district’s goals and challenges and the public’s role in groundwater management
|4:20 – 5pm||MEET YOUR LOCAL WATER MANAGERS: introduction to other water managers attending the symposium and opportunity to ask questions|
|5pm||Cocktails at Saddle Club|
|5:30 – 6pm||Sharlene Leurig’s Our Desired Future documentary in Granada|
Organized by the Big Bend Conservation Alliance
In partnership with Rio Grande Research Center at Sul Ross State University and Devils River Conservancy
Sponsored by The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment * Alpine Montessori School * The Dixon Water Foundation * The City of Alpine * printco * Holland Hotel and Maverick Inn * Big Bend Gazette * patagonia
Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) has repeatedly stated to stakeholders that they will make the land “as good or better” than it was before pipeline construction, but it is hard to imagine, even with intensive restoration work, how that can be accomplished.
Desert soils are very sensitive to disturbance. Desert vegetation is fragile and extremely slow to recover. Experts who have studied desert ecology know that even with intensive restoration attempts, it may take 30-50 years or longer for the land to recover – long past the useful lifespan of the pipeline.
Ecologist David Bainbridge, who has studied desert ecosystems says, “Trenching associated with underground… pipelines destabilize soil crusts and rock surfaces, concentrating water runoff and erosion.” In a paper published in Environmental Management, David Bainbridge and Jeffrey E. Lovich wrote: “Recovery to predisturbance plant cover and biomass may take 50-300 years, while complete ecosystem recovery may require over 3000 years. Restorative intervention can be used to enhance the success and rate of recovery, but the costs are high and the probability for long-term success is low to moderate. Given the sensitivity of desert habitats to disturbance and the slow rate of natural recovery, the best management option is to limit the extent and intensity of impacts as much as possible.” 
At the last ETP townhall meeting in Alpine, Larry Gremminger stated there were no plans to irrigate after reseeding. According to Gremminger, the pipeline easement will be reseeded in conjunction with monsoon season. In the intervening time (from completion of construction to the onset of monsoon season), the implication was that the land would lay fallow. The monsoon season in the Chihuahuan Desert is highly variable in onset and intensity.
Note that the regional seasonal monsoon season is generally late June through late September. Note in the photograph that this section of the easement has been reseeded in early March – there will be little, and insufficient rainfall between March and the onset of the seasonal monsoon for any germination of native grass seed to occur – instead it will be lost to wind erosion.
Reseeding and other restoration efforts could take years. In the meantime, the land would be subject to erosion, invasive species, desertification, and other undesirable effects. “The important lesson from the many studies of desert recovery and restoration is to avoid damage rather than fix it. Natural recovery may take hundreds or thousands of years and even with intensive restoration work, recovery can take many years.” -David Bainbridge 
“Anthropogenic Degradation of the Southern California Desert Ecosystem and Prospects for Natural Recovery and
Restoration,” Environmental Management Vol.24, No.3, pp.309-326. “While our focus is specifically directed to
the problems of desert lands in California (most of our experience is in the Colorad Desert), we believe our review
will prove useful for desert management in other parts of the Southwest, northern Mexico, and in other drylands
around the world.”
 http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article_pf.asp?ID=1207 “New Study Underscored Fragility of Southern
California Deserts,” USGS News Release, October 22, 1999.
Photograph Courtesy of Chris Sweeny, Sunny Glen
As many of you know, Governor Abbott appointed Kelcy Warren to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission while the Legislature was not in session. The Texas Senate Nominations Committee must now confirm his nomination.
We have the opportunity to act.
Kindly visit the link below to download a template of a protest letter to members of the Nominations Committee.
You will also find a list of Nominations Committee members with their Austin and District Office addresses. Simply download the template and list, cut and paste each Senator’s address from the list into the letter, add you own address below the space for your signature, and print. Then sign and SNAIL MAIL each letter to each Senator’s office
Feel free to rephrase the letter any way you see fit, but please remain factual and respectful.
If you send one letter to each Senator’s address, the total cost is about $7 for 14 letters. If you already have stamps, the whole process should take about half an hour.
While we may be feeling somewhat powerless about recent developments in Balmorhea, there is something we can do.
THIS LINK will take you to four protest letter templates, one for each well.
Kindly visit the link, download all four letters, fill each one out (feel free to add any personal touches, but please remain factual), and SNAIL MAIL all four letters to the Railroad Commission.
These letters ensure that the company will be required to request a hearing. This slows the process considerably and may potentially result in a denial of the permits.
The company has applied for 4 injection wells. These wells are used to disappear the highly contaminated water that is used in hydraulic fracturing deep into the ground. This is water that leaves the hydrologic cycle forever and is known to cause earthquakes (they’ve already had 2 in Reeves County this year).
There will be many more such protest letters. Stay tuned and many thanks for your continued support.
The Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) responded today to the Big Bend Conservation Alliance’s Texas Public Information Act, Open Records request (TPIA/OR), the third such request related to evidence of Trans-Pecos Pipeline’s applications, and any associated permits for discharge of hydrostatic testing water.
In 2015, the BBCA’s research team estimated that as much as 54,000,000 gallons of water would be required for hydrostatic testing purposes. Trans-Pecos Pipeline made no specific disclosures about the testing methodology or process to be used, but did indicate that water would be re-used when, and where possible.
Following is the summary of the permit applications – no discharge permits have been issued by RCT as of January 23, 2017, although hydrostatic testing began in Brewster County, on or about January 10:
Total discharge: 44,853,646 gallons
25 Permit Applications
3 discharge locations in Pecos County, five in Brewster County, 17 in Presidio County
8,889,418 gallons discharged in Pecos County
12,045,319 gallons discharged in Brewster County
23,918,909 gallons discharged in Presidio County
The applications, and associated permits, when issued, require the discharge to occur in a specific location on the pipeline route, in this case 25 locations spanning Pecos, Brewster, and Presidio counties. The permit applications disclose that the hydrostatic testing water will not be chemically treated prior to testing, and will be discharged through hay-bale filters at each location.
The BBCA will follow this activity at a later date with a detailed release to the media.
Pipeline systems like the Trans-Pecos Pipeline fall under a number of regulatory requirements at the state, and federal level. The primary federal agency, a sub-agency of the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) charged with regulating pipelines is the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The primary state agency charged with pipeline operation and safety regulation is the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT).
PHMSA only spends about 10% of its resources on new construction inspection. RCT does not routinely inspect any new construction, and no permit to construct a pipeline is required in the State of Texas.
There is a lot of confusion on the matter, but PHMSA provides minimal oversight, almost none at all, on new pipeline construction at a nationwide level, and almost none at all in Texas.
Pipeline construction at a Federal level is regulated under 49 CFR Parts 191-199. At a state level, in Texas, the activity is regulated under TAC 16 Chapter 8, which is in part derived from, and references 49 CFR Parts 191-199. In turn, both codes incorporate ASME Standard B31.8, the engineering and construction practices for gas transmission systems.
Federal, and state statutes require that pipeline operating companies, their contractors, and related entities follow the aforementioned codes and statutes, during construction, including testing, and after construction, during operation. PHMSA develops “Operator Qualification,” or “OQ” guidelines, which apply to both construction, and operation of a pipeline.
Unfortunately, pipeline companies and their contractors are largely self-regulating, and self-reporting. While there can be some spot-checking and inspection, for example, during construction, there is no Federal, or State inspector present that monitors welding, radiography, hydrostatic testing, or any other activity that takes place on the construction easement. Pipeline construction is complex, and requires attention to many critical details; ensuring coating integrity, cathodic protection installation and integrity, welding, weld inspection, pad layer and pipeline support in the trench, backfill quality, hydrostatic testing, and so on. Problems with any one, or combination of these details can result in catastrophic pipeline failure during operation.
The construction contractor is responsible for following applicable elements of the required PHMSA OQ guidelines, including certification of its staff, which range from field supervisors and inspectors to individual trades people and even general labor. The contractor must make sure inspectors are certified, and that inspectors and supervisors are monitoring construction activity, collecting the required test and inspection data, preserving that data for the record, and identifying defects, improper work and installation practices, etc.
All of that falls on the contractor. Neither PHMSA, or the RCT routinely monitor any of this activity.
Contrary to recently spread misinformation, the pipeline operating company hires the inspectors, and conducts the tests, including radiography and hydrostatic testing. The pipeline operating company retains the inspection records, including X-rays of welds, and hydrostatic testing results. Those records are not submitted to, or retained by either State or Federal agencies.
In the event of an operational incident that must be reported to either RCT, and/or PHMSA, a pipeline company will normally turn over the related test records to the investigating agency – barring voluntary compliance, those records may be obtained by subpoena. Note that this is “post-facto,” i.e. an incident, like a leak, rupture, explosion, or fire must occur before any investigation is performed, or enforcement action is effected – it is not pro-active.
Included here is the PHMSA data, from 2002 – 2016 related to enforcement for Energy Transfer Company, Operator ID 32099, Sunoco Pipeline L.P, Operator ID 18718, and Sunoco Pipeline LP, Operator ID 31623. These are three of Energy Transfer Partners pipeline operating entities. Note that there are only 18 enforcement events across all three operating entities, over a period of 14-years. This rough statistic shows just how thin inspection, and enforcement is at the federal level.
Interested persons can contact the regional PHMSA office, located in Houston, here: 713-272-2859
You can visit PHMSA on the web here: http://www.phmsa.dot.gov
You can visit RCT on the web here: http://www.rrc.state.tx.us
Safety regulations promulgated by the RCT for Texas pipelines are here: http://www.rrc.state.tx.us/pipeline-safety/rules/
As concerned citizens, we are troubled that the Trans-Pecos Pipeline system has not been thoroughly tested for leaks, or other failures, before burial in the ground. Energy Transfer Partners repeatedly promised at public meetings, and in writing, that 100% of the system welds would be inspected, and that the system would be thoroughly pressure tested at 1.1 to 1.5 times its maximum allowable operating pressure of 1,440psi.
Hydrostatic testing, which Energy Transfer Partners, and its contractor committed to perform, involves filling the pipeline system with pressurized water, potentially laced with chemicals, and testing for leaks or related failures. We have not seen any evidence of hydrostatic testing being performed before the pipe was buried and, after significant research, found permits for disposing waste water were just filed last week. This means they were either filed late, or that ETP may run much less effective tests after most of the pipe is buried. Either way, as this is a high-pressure gas pipeline with a 1/4 mile blast radius, we are very concerned.
Filling the entire 42”-diameter, 148-mile long pipeline system, just one time, requires 54 million gallons of water (54,000,000 gallons). In most cases, the water is treated with an oxygen-reducing chemical, and chemical corrosion inhibitors. Sometimes dyes are added, to make identification of leaks easier. In addition to the chemical additives, the hydrostatic testing water picks up more contaminants as it runs through the pipeline, including residual oils, lubricants, surface treatments, and metallic debris from welding and grinding operations. The water used in hydrostatic testing is thus contaminated, and considered hazardous waste, requiring permits for disposal. In this case, surface disposal is being used, which simply means dumping the contaminated water onto the surface of the soil, and relying on the ground itself to filter contaminants out of the water, before it reaches the groundwater sources, like our aquifer.
Hydrostatic testing involves filling the pipeline with water, under 1,440psi to 2,160psi of pressure, and detecting failures or leaks in the system, before it goes into service. This can be done in “sections,” while the pipeline is still exposed in welded “strings,” alongside the trench, and it can also be done after the pipeline is buried, although that makes identification of leaks and failures much more time-consuming and difficult, and requires excavating the pipeline to repair a failure. The activity is highly “visible,” requiring tanker trucks of water, high-pressure pumps, hoses, and significant activity on the right-of-way during testing.
Observers along the route have been monitoring construction. Among many anomalies, they were never able to observe hydrostatic testing activities, expected to be conducted along the construction spreads as the welded pipeline segments were completed. Now, much of the system is in the ground, buried. While hydrostatic testing is certainly still possible, any leaks in the system become difficult to locate, and repair after the pipeline is buried in the trench.
Additional investigation led to querying the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT), as disposal of hydrostatic testing water, which is contaminated, requires a permit from the agency. Initially, no evidence of any permits, either in application form, pending, or issued showed up in the RCT’s publicly accessible database.
Beginning December 6, 2016, after being unable to locate any evidence of application, pending, or issued permits, BBCA’s research team contacted the Midland, District 8 RCT office, to inquire about the required disposal permits. RCT staffers were polite, and courteous, but were unable to locate any evidence of disposal permits at the local office level. After several referrals, a Midland office staffer provided a contact to one of RCT’s staff in Austin, in the division responsible for issuance of “Minor Permits,” under which the hydrostatic test water disposal permit falls. The Austin office staffer provided interesting insights:
He had recently issued two permits for Pumpco, the construction contractor for Trans-Pecos Pipeline, LLC; one permit authorizing surface disposal of 27,000 gallons of hydrostatic test water, and a second permit authorizing surface disposal of 1.6 million gallons of hydrostatic test water. Both permits were issued within the last working week. The RCT staffer indicated that often, “permit applications are the last thing on the contractor’s mind,” and often fall into last-minute, sometimes after-the-fact requests – he was unable to comment as to whether Pumpco had performed any, or all of the hydrostatic testing, or whether the surface disposal for either of the permits had taken place. Due to backlog, and inefficiencies in RCT’s systems, it may be several months before the permits appear in RCT’s electronic, on-line database, available to the public.
All we as citizens know for certain, is that there were two permits allowing surface disposal of 27,000 gallons, and 1.6 million gallons of contaminated water, issued by RCT for this project.
These HT Discharge permits are site-specific, and allow HT discharge only in the place specified by the permit, as issued, i.e. we would likely notice the discharge of 1.6 million gallons along the route, especially in an arid region like the Big Bend. When copies of the permits become available, we would know for certain where these surface discharges occurred.
Recall that filling the entire Trans-Pecos Pipeline system from end-to-end requires at least 54-million gallons of water, which the HT permits account for only about 1.6-million gallons. While it is possible to use a technique sometimes called “jumping,” or “shuttling” – testing the line segment-by-segment, and moving the water from one construction spread to an adjacent downstream spread, the difference between 54-million gallons (just for a complete, one-time end-to-end test) and 1.6-million gallons is significant (1.6-million gallons is about 2% of the water required to completely fill the pipeline).
For those who’ve been following the Trans-Pecos Pipeline project, recall that the company’s lead representative, Energy Transfer Partners, LP, and the construction contractor, Pumpco, indicated that 100% inspection of all welds, and complete hydrostatic testing of the system would be performed. These commitments were made in multiple public meetings, and on the company’s informational web site for the project (http://www.transpecospipelinefacts.com/safety.html…). All we have as citizens is the word of the company and contractor representatives.
In this environment, it is highly likely that observers along the route would have noticed hydrostatic testing activity, and consequent discharge of large volumes of hydrostatic test water if it had already occurred. As the system nears completion, and if you are an observer, be on the look out for evidence of testing, and re-excavation of portions of the system, which will require discharge of significant volumes of water, and activity to repair any leak or failure that is detected. If you are able to observe this activity, without trespassing, feel free to notify firstname.lastname@example.org by email.
Related to this research, in conducting the search for the HT Discharge permits, it appears that Trans-Pecos Pipeline, LLC’s T4 Operating Permit, T09352 is no longer available in the RCT’s database, nor does it appear in the RCT’s GIS Viewer (mapping system). Texas Public Information Act / Open Records requests were filed on December 8, 2016, for copies of the HT Discharge permits, and a copy of the valid T4 operating permit. At this late stage, it is curious that the T4 Operating Permit, which is required for the operation of the pipeline, as well as the legal aspects of eminent domain condemnation, used in 39 cases to obtain easement for the project by force of the court, is absent from the RCT’s public records.
The State of Texas, via the regulating authority, the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT), makes it difficult, deliberately, to determine how much natural gas is being flared.
Technically, flaring of natural gas is allowed on a well intermittently, during drilling, and for only 10-days after a well is completed, for flow testing. Unfortunately, a variety of loopholes and exceptions in the laws allow flaring to occur indefinitely.
The following graph, produced by RCT, to deliberately obfuscate and diminish the flaring activity shows that in recent years, about 1% of all of the produced gas (which includes casing-head gas, and well gas). On a monthly based, in recent years, the wells state-wide produced about 650-billion (650,000,000,000) cubic feet of natural gas. Flaring 1% of that gas amounts to 6.5-billion (6,500,000,000) feet – flared, burned off, which creates carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and various volatile organic compounds, all of which pollute the air, contaminate the ground, and surface water, and increase the atmospheric CO2 load.
Converted to electrical power, that 6.5-billion cubic feet of natural gas, wasted through flaring, would generate 1905 gigawatt hours (Gwh) of electricity monthly. For comparative purposes, factoring in peak and trough demand, 1Gwh is enough energy to supply approximately 300,000 average U.S. homes. Just in Texas, every month, more than 19-times this amount of energy is wasted through flaring.
You can see for yourself what the RCT’s flaring policies are here:
This overview summarizes impacts to the community of Balmorhea, related to Apache Corporation’s development of a recently announced oil & gas find, the so-called “Alpine High” field.
Apache Corporation is currently drilling exploratory and test wells in the Balmorhea area, its drilling contractor, Pioneer Energy Services is operating five rigs on behalf of Apache Corporation.
The company announced that they plan to invest $2.1Bn in the region, completing wells at the rate of approximately 80 annually, with as many as 4,000 wells in total as the field is fully developed over the coming years.
Apache Corporation is one of at least eight producers with mineral rights leases in the southern Delaware Basin, in, and surrounding Balmorhea and the south of Reeves County Texas.
Impacts to Balmorhea and south Reeves County include:
– Risks of surface, and groundwater contamination from drilling and production activities.
– Potential impacts on spring flow from San Solomon Springs, which feeds Balmorhea Lake, a critical freshwater reservoir, and the pool at Balmorhea State Park, one of Texas’ priceless recreational sites.
– Potential impacts on groundwater resources in the Rustler, and Igneous Aquifers, minor aquifers that provide all of the fresh water resources for drinking and agriculture in the region.
– Potential impacts on air quality, related to emissions, including fugitive methane leaks, venting, flaring, combustion engine exhaust, and production activities.
– Impacts to dark skies, associated with rig lighting, plant and facility lighting, flaring, vehicle traffic, and growth of commercial infrastructure (hotels/motels, restaurants, bars, retail stores, etc.)
– Decreased public safety, related to the risk of rupture, explosion and fire in the producing field.
– Increases in area traffic, with downside impacts including vehicle accidents, vehicle fatalities, road wear and damage, speeding, DUI, and related problems.
– Socioeconomic impact, including disparate impact on ethnic community members, those in poverty, increases in rental prices, increases in cost of living, displacement of existing members of the community who cannot afford these increases, a rise in criminal activity, including drug-related crime, assault, violence against persons, including rape, human trafficking, and theft.
– Increased demand on law enforcement and first responders, including fire and EMS personnel.
– Impacts on area culture, and business as tourism and agricultural activity gives way to industrial and commercial infrastructure to support a predominantly transient workforce.
This list of impacts and risks is by no means complete, or comprehensive. Enumerated here are the major issues, at a high-level that southern Reeves County, and the citizens of Balmorhea are facing.
This small, rural West Texas community lacks sufficient resources to cope with all the impacts they are facing, and the communities in surrounding counties, in this sparsely populated, remote region as similarly ill-equipped. Large scale extraction and production activities have significant history, and documented negative impact on small rural communities, spanning nearly 80 years. You can find out more by keeping an eye on the Big Bend Conservation Alliance’s resource pages and blog.
With the help of our friends at Sierra Club and Environmental Texas, we would like to draw attention to the increasing conflicts of interest within the University of Texas system, and encourage everyone to sign the petition asking Chancellor McRaven to cut methane release on University of Texas properties:
Click here to read and sign the PETITION
The University of Texas, system-wide, is culpable, and complicit in several failures, conflicts of interest, and many more bad acts, and at multiple levels.
Keep in mind the likes of Kelcy Warren, Christi Craddick, and many similar individuals are part of Chancellor McRaven’s executive council, they are members of the 1818 Club, and sponsor endowed chairs in various departments. UTLands and UTIMCO represent millions of acres, and billions of dollars, all derived from harmful oil & gas activity.
The conflicts of interest run deep, and wide.
UT, through inaction, and silence allows great harm to come to this state, and through direct action, silences those who bring to light the conflict of interest and harm.
A message from our friends at the Lower Rio Grande Sierra Club:
Here on the south most tip of Texas we’re seeing a tangle of bad stuff closing in around us including:
We’re seeing the University of Texas System as having some role in at least the West Texas fracking part of this and possibly in the promotion of LNG exports.
The whole University of Texas System is coming under increasing criticism for its failure to demand that the companies fracking its Permanent University Fund lands clean up their excessively polluting operations.
Since Environment Texas launched a campaign calling on UT to cut methane pollution from the fracking operations on its land, more than 3000 people have signed the petition. Three dozen UT faculty have endorsed the cleanup recommendations. And the UT Austin student government voted 21-3 to support the recommendations.
Join them in asking UT Chancellor McRaven to cut methane pollution from UT fracking operations by signing the petition HERE (same petition as above)
For additional information:
– Watch the new infrared video confirming that dangerous methane is leaking from the UT lands HERE
– Also watch the video HERE
– See “Climate Campaign Puts UT on Notice: Reduce Methane Emissions at Your West Texas Oil Fields,” 09-21-2016, Environment Texas HERE
– See “UT’s Dirty Little Secret” HERE
Visit saveRGVfromLNG on Facebook to find out about the 10-11-2016 rally against LNG in Brownsville immediately preceding the TCEQ Public Meeting in Texas LNG’s request for a TCEQ greenhouse gas emission permit.
Also related to UT’s fracking connection, UT Austin professor David Allen was recently been accused of wrongdoing in the underreporting of fracking related methane emission levels in two pivotal, high-profile studies cited by the natural gas industry to discount the problem.
– See “Whistleblower: EPA Official Covered up Methane Leakage Problems across US Natural Gas Industry – News Release from NC WARN,” NC [North Carolina] WARN, 06-08-2016 HERE. Also see “Investigation Of EPA Urged In Methane Scandal,” NC WARN, 08-05-2016, Popular Resistance HERE.
UT also seems involved in our LNG problems. The UT Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) president recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with NextDecade / Rio Grande LNG — the largest of the three LNG companies seeking FERC approval to build at our Port. The UTRGV Faculty Senate address this issue today but I haven’t heard the outcome of that meeting yet. The UTRGV Student Government Association is also concerned and there has been a small student protest against the MOU on both the Edinburg and Brownsville campuses.
And “LNG SAFETY AND SECURITY” was published by the UT Austin’s Center for Energy Economics in June 2012. It has been cited by our Port and by the LNG companies targeting our Port to discount and dismiss our safety concerns as unrealistic. See the report HERE and read footnote 1 that reads, in part, “This publication was supported by a research consortium, Commercial Frameworks for LNG in North America. Sponsors of the consortium were BP Energy Company-Global LNG, BG LNG Services, ChevronTexaco Global LNG, Shell Gas & Power, ConocoPhillips Worldwide LNG, El Paso Global LNG, ExxonMobil Gas Marketing Company, Tractebel LNG North America/Distrigas of Massachusetts.”
Note: This LNG SAFETY AND SECURITY report was published the same year and month that the Panama Canal Stakeholders Working Group was formed within the Texas Department of Transportation to help make our Texas ports LNG export ready for the widening of the Panama Canal to accommodate LNG tanker ships.
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.
This article examines the potential impacts of oil and gas activity in the Delaware Basin, a sub-region of the greater Permian Basin region in far west Texas.
Recent announcements from Apache Corporation, notably, the so-called “Alpine High” find in the southern Delaware Basin demonstrate the continued southerly movement of oil and gas exploration, and production activity, extending toward the virtually pristine, and largely intact Big Bend region.
The negative potential of this development activity may outweigh any positive economic gain, particularly for the impacted region itself. The Big Bend is the last frontier, thus far spared from major urban, commercial, or industrial development, particularly related to energy industry infrastructure.
The Big Bend region, in far southwest Texas is comprised of of Jeff Davis, Brewster, and Presidio counties. The northern counties bordering the region include Reeves, and Pecos counties, and further to the north, the region known as the greater Permian Basin, one of Texas’ most productive oil and gas producing regions.
This graphic provides insight into the location of the Delaware Basin, overlapping Reeves, Pecos, and portions of Jeff Davis, Brewster, and Presidio counties:
The following graphic shows acreage leased by just three of eight oil & gas producers in the basin, predominantly covering Reeves, and portions of Pecos, Jeff Davis, and Brewster counties – some 700,000 acres.
The recent “find,” known as the “Alpine High,” announced by Apache Corp is included here, along the Reeves-Jeff Davis northeastern county line.
The regional geology is complex, and consists of volcanic, and sedimentary rock layers, including basins, ancient reef structures, uplifts, faults, and mountainous terrain. The hydrocarbon resources in the region are so-called “tight” plays; crude oil, natural gas, condensates (natural gas liquids), trapped in semi-porous sedimentary rock layers within the strata – some sand, limestone (carbonates), and shale. These layers were formed over differing geological time scales, and they have intervening layers of non-porous (impermeable) rock, and non-bearing strata that trap the hydrocarbons in the carbonate, sand, and shale layers. In some cases these layers are one-hundred to two-hundred feet thick, in other cases, they are many thousands of feet thick. These layers vary in porosity, or “permeability,” with sand and carbonate layers having higher permeability than shale. Since shale is semi-porous, or “low porosity” rock, the ability of hydrocarbon resources to migrate, or flow through the rock is poor. To recover crude oil, natural gas, and condensates from these “tight shale” plays, advanced recovery techniques are used – known collectively as hydraulic fracturing and well stimulation, typically using a vertical well bore to reach the shale layers, with the well bore “steered” by directional drilling techniques to produce a horizontal bore section, or “lateral.” The lateral part of the bore is then “fractured,” or “fraced” to produce cracks, or fractures in the shale layer, to allow the hydrocarbons to flow from the fractured shale, into the well bore, where is can be extracted. This is the only way to economically recover sufficient hydrocarbons from these “tight” plays.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracing” is controversial for a number of reasons, including intensity of water usage, use of toxic chemicals, its impact on the underground geology, both direct, and indirect, the potential for groundwater contamination, and numerous other reasons. Fracturing of the sub-surface shale layers requires a mixture of water, chemicals, including surfactants, lubricants, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agents, anti-corrosives, acids, and mechanical components, known as “proppants” (sand, or ceramic materials) used to keep the fractures open, allowing hydrocarbon flow. These components are mixed together, and injected down the well bore under very high hydraulic pressure, which in turn flows through perforations in the horizontal (“lateral”) sections of the well bore to fracture the shale.
The usual development of this kind of play involves multi-well pads, using bores with multiple, stacked laterals. A typical four-well pad completion will use 1,000,000 bbl. of water (42,000,000 gallons) over about a two week period.
This graphic shows the arrangement of a typical multi-well, stacked lateral production field:
The flow-back operation, following fracturing, will generate contaminated water, some of which is recovered, and potentially recycled. The remainder has to be either treated for disposal, or disposed of through deep-well injection (this is what is causing earthquake activity in North Texas and Oklahoma).
Once the well stimulation (fracking) activity is completed, and the well has been brought in, it is ready to enter its production phase, to begin delivering hydrocarbons. Those hydrocarbon products must be delivered upstream, to processing facilities – gas processing plants, and refineries. The general notion of moving hydrocarbons from the field producing to processing is known as take-away.
Someone has to put in take-away capacity for tens of thousands of barrels of crude oil, and NGL’s – pipelines, as well as the gathering lines from the well heads.
“Take-away” is the means by which hydrocarbon products, including crude oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids (NGL’s) are transported away from the well and related production sites. Take-way is also necessary for transport of waste by-products, including contaminated water.
Supply, and take-away capacity during early development of a field is usually by truck – supply components in the process, including fresh water, diesel fuel (for rig and generator power), fracing chemicals, proppants, etc. are made by tanker. Product and waste by-product take-away is also made by tanker. Small tank batteries are constructed near well pads, and other areas like gas-oil separator pads, gas processing plants, etc., to temporarily accumulate the produced hydrocarbons, and waste byproducts, which are in turn pumped into tankers for transport to upstream facilities.
Over time, to address inefficiency, and improve the economics of producing the field, pipelines, and in some cases rail facilities are installed. Gathering lines move the raw hydrocarbon stream from the well-head to processing facilities. These include gas, and liquid hydrocarbon streams. Additional pipelines from the gas processing plant(s), and from crude oil and NGL storage facilities (tank batteries) move product from the field to refinery operations, in this case to the northeast in the Midland-Odessa area, and to the west-northwest to El Paso. Pipeline construction requires acquiring right-of-way, sometimes through use of eminent domain condemnation, right-of-way clearing, trenching, and other aspects of pipeline construction, and ultimately pipeline operation, which has associated public safety and environmental impact. These pipelines can range in size from 2” (a small connector in the gathering network) to larger 30-inch diameter systems (bulk crude or NGL).
Other components of the take-away system may include pipelines for waste water gathering and transport, and in the supply side, they may also include fresh water, and lean natural gas (used for rig power as an alternative to diesel fuel). Similar impacts to take-away pipelines also apply in this case.
Since this is primarily a rich, wet gas play, the production will include natural gas, condensates (NGL), some oil. The balance of hydrocarbons over this range of production will vary based on the underlying geology and reservoir contents. In the Bone Spring, Wolfcamp, and “Wolfbone” shales, the percentages range from a balanced stream of 1/3 natural gas, 1/3 NGL’s, and 1/3 crude to as much as ½, or 50% natural gas, combined with 40% NGL/condensate, and 10% crude.
Some water is also inevitably produced – depending on a variety of factors, tens to hundreds of thousands of barrels in an operating month – a good average for these formations is about 100,000bbl/month, or about 4,200,000 gallons of produced water, that comes back up with the hydrocarbon stream. That contaminated water has to be hauled out, and either treated for disposal, reused in maintaining the field (which is expensive), or disposed of through deep-well injection.
There will be flaring activity during drilling and completion, possibly less once the field is in production, as technically flaring gas wells is illegal under RCT and TCEQ/EPA rules. Unfortunately, RCT is known for issuing exemptions, and authorizing extensions for allowable flaring, even on production natural gas wells. Flaring is a component of all hydrocarbon energy development, from exploration, and production at the well head, through processing for use and delivery of hydrocarbon-based products:
That is not to say there will be no flaring once the field is in production. Emergency shut-in of a well, compressor station, etc. typically results in flaring, as do maintenance activities. Flaring produces toxic emissions, as well as other products of combustion including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide. All of these emissions contaminate air, and water, and increase atmospheric CO2 levels. There is generally continuous flare operation at gas processing plants, and in some compressor station operations – this is an emergency readiness requirement, necessary to ignite the flare stack on a blow-down line in an emergency venting operation, as well as to burn off hazardous materials from vent lines on processing equipment and intermediate storage vessels. This activity is technically regulated by TCEQ, and emissions are supposed to be monitored and controlled. This kind of continuous flaring activity is a source of unwanted artificial light.
Since this is classified as a sour gas play (rich, wet gas often has a high H2S content), there will have to be one, or more gas plants capable of removing the sulfur from the stream, and drying the gas – gas plants of this type produce molecular sulfur, which is usually transported out in molten form by tanker, either truck or rail. Depending on the market conditions, the sulfur can be sold for industrial purposes (used in fertilizer, rubber, etc.) When the market is down, the producer either has to store the sulfur, or pay to have it hauled out – neither is a good thing. In a down market, the sulfur is typically transformed from molten to solid form, and stored in open bins, which allow rain to contact the solid sulfur, some of which is transformed into sulfuric, acidic storm-water run-off. In dry, windy conditions, some is eroded from the bin and turned into sulfur-laden dust. Depending on the nature of the reservoir, and H2S content of the gas stream, the processing plant(s) may need to remove between 600 and 1000 long tons of sulfur daily.
In addition, sour gas, containing H2S (hydrogen sulfide), is a deadly toxin. The entrained H2S kills humans, and animals in the parts-per-billion level. Leaks in the production system, from the well-head, gathering network, compressor stations, and gas processing plants can be catastrophic, and significant threats to nearby populations.
Today’s 3D seismology, and petro-geology techniques are pretty good, but they are not perfect.
What is happening underground, given the idiosyncratic nature of the geology and formations, can be unpredictable. A bore excursion, a frack-out, a hidden fault that connects to other structures, like the water table, fluid migration, and other factors can, and does cause groundwater contamination. Problems with well bore casings, problems with well bore linings (cement) all result in the escape of hydrocarbons and other chemical contaminants into surrounding strata, with the potential for groundwater contamination.
One of the Apache Corporation’s existing 19 wells is adjacent to Balmorhea Lake… imagine the eventual web of horizontal bores permeating southern Reeves County, and the potential risks.
The greater concern is the level of industrialization related to developing an oil & gas play of this magnitude. While all eight producers holding lease interests in the region are likely over-stating the reserves, in some cases probably substantially, to try and prop up their shaky business by inflating stock prices, the impact on the region will be tremendous, even if only a fraction of this is developed and brought into production.
Notice the significant lease block in southeastern Brewster County, and its proximity to Big Bend National Park.
The southern Delaware Basin region borders the Jeff Davis, Presidio, and Brewster county region, “home of the Big Bend,” which includes Davis Mountains State Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park, the Chinati Mountains Preserve, Big Bend National Park itself, and the University of Texas McDonald Observatory, one of North America’s premier research astronomy facilities. These parks, and the research facility are part of an area tourism draw that brings in more than 100,000 visitors to the region annually – dark-sky tourism is a critical component of the regional economy. Artificial sky-brightness, and light sources, including flaring activity, industrial lighting, and commercial lighting all threaten to dramatically increase artificial sky-glow, and negatively impact this region, which has one of the darkest skies in North America. As potential development of the southern Delaware Basin pushes further south, these light sources move closer to the parks and observatory – light transmission and brightness is based on what is known as the “inverse square law” – in other words, a light source that moves twice is close to the viewer’s eye is four times brighter. A source that moves three times closer is nine times brighter, and so on. Currently, the artificial sky-glow, and associated light dome from the greater Permian Basin region is visible on the horizon from approximately 300-miles to the north-northeast. The Delaware Basin activity will push these sources of light to within 25-miles of these parks and research facility. While it is true that the surrounding seven counties are afforded legislative protection for night sky, and outdoor lighting, enforcement is problematic, and certain activities, like flaring are exempt from the associated legislation and ordinances.
This is the sky-glow, and associated light dome generated by oil and gas activity in the Permian Basin:
In addition to increased sky-glow, threatening the region’s dark skies, reduced air quality, due to combustion by-products from rig and site power, fugitive emissions, and flaring, water demands, and potential contamination of groundwater resources, increased dust from traffic on unpaved lease roads, wear & tear on county and state roads from oilfield traffic, increases in vehicle accidents, including fatalities, increased crime, and corresponding increased demands on area public safety, EMS and fire resources. We’ll examine some of these impacts in-depth next.
Water Use & Water Quality
As mentioned, developing the resources in an oil & gas basin is a water-intensive activity. The Delaware Basin exists within a larger bioregion known as the Chihuahaun Desert, an arid region that receives less than 19-inches of rainfall on an average annual basis.
With the exception of Balmorhea Lake, an open water resource fed by the San Solomon Springs, in Reeves County, there is no open water in the region. The majority of the water in the region is sourced from underground, minor aquifers, which exist within fractured igneous rock, fed by rainfall in the recharge zones in the mountains surrounding the Delaware Basin. Water is a scarce, and precious resource within the region, and the majority of the water used for human survival, wild-life, and agricultural purposes is derived from these minor aquifers.
The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), and the associated area underground water districts plan for, and quantify water use. Oil & Gas activity, oddly, does not exist as a category for water use, and instead falls under a broader category as a mining activity. In the region, TWDB and county underground water conservation districts show near zero use of area water resources in support of oil & gas activity or mining. The requirements for supporting development of the southern Delaware basin are not accounted for in any of the current, or forward-looking plans – known as Desired Future Conditions (DFC’s). Given than development of a single 4-bore well pad consumes on average 42,000,000 gallons of water (about 129 acre-feet), and a single producer, in this example, Apache Corporation’s “Alpine High” field may contain 2000 – 4000 wells, using the conservative averages, from 64,500 acre-feet, to as much as 129,000 acre-feet of water (billions of gallons) would be required to complete these wells. This is a fraction of the total water required for the full development of the entire southern Delaware Basin.
In turn, the water used during fracturing is “flowed back,” after the fracturing process is complete. That water is chemically contaminated with the materials used during well stimulation, including acids, surfactants, anti-bacterial and anti-fungals, corrosion inhibitors, and many other harmful chemicals. The flow-back water must be collected, and either treated to remove the chemical contaminants, for surface disposal or municipal disposal, or it must be injected into deep-well disposal, in which case that water is essentially lost from the hydrologic cycle forever.
In some production operations, there are operators who recycle this water, and re-use it during subsequent fracturing operations. While this is possible, and a rising trend, it is not ubiquitous in the industry. This also requires local storage of the water, typically in so-called “frac ponds,” which are excavated pits, with synthetic liners to prevent loss of the contaminated water into the groundwater table. Leaks in the liners are common, and leakage of contaminated water is common.
Groundwater contamination also occurs due to faulty well casings, faulty well cementing operations, spills, and related well-head operations. Despite best efforts, there are thousands of documented cases of groundwater contamination related to oil and gas operations, including hydraulic fracturing activities.
Statistically, over eight or more producers, and thousands of wells in the Delaware Basin, groundwater contamination from these activities is not just a remote possibility, it is a certainty.
A specific concern lies in operations within Reeves County – Balmorhea State Park, Balmorhea Lake, San Solomon Springs, and interconnectivity to an underground cave and spring system, Phantom Springs, are at risk of loss from oil and gas development in the southern Delaware Basin.
These resources are unique, in the isolated arid Chihuahuan Desert – literal oases in this landscape, serving wildlife, including migratory birds, recreational needs for Texans, and they provide drinking and agricultural water sources for the community of Balmorhea and surrounding area.
The risk of contamination is an existential threat, chemicals, or contaminated industrial water from the fracing process that migrates into the springs, catastrophic damage to the geology that damages or impairs spring flow, etc., are all valid concerns.
One company, Apache Corporation, owns the leases on mineral rights underneath Balmorhea Lake, and Balmorhea Lake State Park – although they claim that they will restrict their drilling operations to exclude the park, lake, and town of Balmorhea, that restriction fails to completely protect these resources.
One Apache leased rig operates within 1500-feet of Balmorhea Lake:
Oil and gas exploration, extraction, and production activities are known to cause a variety of air quality emissions, ranging from fugitive emissions (leaks), byproducts of combustion, dust and aerosol contaminants, and toxic chemicals.
These emissions originate from diverse sources, including valve and casing leaks, from flaring activities, venting from tank batteries, vessels in processing systems, and the majority of activities associated with developing the hydrocarbon resources in the field.
They include dust, generated by traffic on unpaved lease roads, exhaust emissions from rig power, vehicles, electrical generation systems, and other traffic associated with the development and production of the field.
Carcinogens, including aerosolized benzene, toluene, and various other known cancer-producing agents are emitted from compressor stations, gas processing plants, and associated systems.
Many of these emissions, including dust and aerosols can have additive negative impact when combined with artificial light sources, exacerbating sky-glow, and increasing the apparent, and effective size of light-domes – the aerosolized material provides additional means to scatter, and distribute wasted light from artificial sources, creating additional negative impact on the region.
For individuals suffering from respiratory disorders, including COPD, asthma/ARDS, or related chronic health problems, as well as the elderly, and infants, these emissions create additional health risk and hazards.
While TCEQ, and in some cases, RCT, have monitoring and enforcement responsibility, these agencies are notoriously lax in both aspects, and air quality issues related to emissions from oil & gas activities go largely unchecked, until significant health issues in surrounding, impacted communities become overwhelming.
Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure
Truck traffic, including transportation of heavy equipment, water, hydrocarbons, and oilfield logistics will take a heavy toll on the few county and state roads in the region. Wear and tear, and the kind of damage created by oilfield traffic can easily be seen first hand, by traveling U.S. 285 through Reeves and Culberson counties. Damage to roadways, including main-lane, and shoulders, from heavy truck traffic are costly to repair, and damage private vehicles, indirectly costing area residents significant sums for tire, wheel, and other damage.
Increased traffic, resulting including car-truck, truck-truck, and single vehicle accidents are common.
In turn, deaths related to motor vehicle accidents increase.
Area TX-DOT resources are not currently equipped to deal with the additional maintenance required to sustain safe Texas highways, potentially impacted by oilfield development activity in the region. To an even greater extent, county road and highway departments are even more greatly impacted by this activity.
It is unlikely, and there is no evidence, that tax or other revenue generated to the impacted counties is sufficient to keep up with, and repair use-based damage to area roadways. Instead, citizens of the region suffer from additional costs, vehicle damage, and impaired travel on area roadways at the expense of the oil and gas development activity.
Oil & gas development activity has associated numerous public safety concerns. Ruptures, explosions, and fires associated with pipelines, processing facilities, storage facilities are frequent problems in producing fields. Lighting strike induced fires on tank batteries are common.
Leaks at well sites, which may produce H2S are common problems. Occasional wild-well situations occur.
The surrounding landscape is in part short-grass prairie, including the Alpine grasslands, along with scrub, and tinder-dry fuels.
The entire fire-related first responders in the region consist of several small, volunteer fire departments, with inter-department/inter-agency mutual aid agreements.
There is little to no surface water. The terrain is rugged, and difficult in which to operate. Area prevailing winds can create dangerous, extreme fire behaviors. In 2011, the Rock House Fire, ignited by a single spark, burned over 314,000 acres in the region, and ran out of control for nearly thirty days.
Imagine the risk created by concentrated oilfield development activity, and operation in the southern Delaware Basin, unlimited by the nature of the region, and local fire-fighting capability.
Similarly, there is a single 24-bed regional hospital serving Jeff Davis, Brewster, and Presidio counties.
There is a single 25-bed regional hospital in Reeves County (Pecos) to the north of the area. EMS first responders are also volunteers, and there are fewer than a half-dozen licensed paramedic/EMT staff in the region.
Increased demand on these resources from potential oilfield related impacts is impossible to predict, but the resources are thinly stretched now. Fire, injury-accidents, etc. that impact EMS and hospital resources will be heavily hit by this activity.
Quality of Life
Statistically, as population density increases, so does the crime rate. With certain kinds of industrial development, and related urbanization/commercialization, the crime rates tend to increase at a higher than average rate, and certain crimes, for example drug trafficking, human trafficking and prostitution, assaults, driving while intoxicated, etc. increase at higher rates.
Historically, the oil field activity in Texas, and recently, in examples in the Bakken field in North Dakota, along with numerous studies on crime rate, and quality of life support this claim, and concern.
The seven-county area impacted by Delaware Basin development encompasses a vast land area, and relatively small, very low density population – about 25,000 people, spread over about 28,000 square miles – less than one person per square mile.
The small communities that exist in the region are rural, mostly agrarian, with thin law enforcement resources, covering a huge land area.
The region is ill-equipped to cope with potential increases in criminal activity. In addition, many of the impacted counties are border communities, and are already dealing with, and over-taxed by the drug and related trade between the U.S. – Mexico border.
The oil and gas industry is heavily cyclical, and the “boom – bust” economic activity associated with it generates a highly transient, mostly temporary workforce. During the peak of a producing field’s development, there may be several thousand temporary, transient workers supporting that activity. While the majority of them are simply hard-working people doing a job, there inevitably are some with less positive intentions.
As an example, recent pipeline construction in the Culberson, Brewster, and Presidio county areas have directly correlated increases in crimes, including driving while intoxicated, driving without a valid license (including commercial trucks), theft, drug possession (personal use) and drug possession (manufacture and intent to distribute), evading arrest, felony assault, solicitation (of prostitution), and a host of related misdemeanor crimes.
The already stressed system, in dealing with border-related incarcerations is out of jail capacity. Law enforcement is stretched thin to begin with, so response times to criminal activity, combined with the distances that must be traveled for response combined with an increase in criminal activity rate to stretch the system to the point of breaking.
The level of criminal activity directly impacts the quality of life for area residents, who have not had to deal with these problems in the region, at least directly, before the impending threat that this particular industrial development brings.
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Greider, Thomas, and Richard S. Krannich. 1985. “Perceptions of Problems in Rapid Growth and Stable Communities: A Comparative Analysis.” Community Development Society Journal, 16 (2), 1985, pp. 80‐96.
Greider, Thomas, Richard S. Krannich and E. Helen Berry. 1991. “Local Identity, Solidarity, and Trust in Changing Rural Communities.” Sociological Focus, 24(4), October 1991, pp. 263‐282.
Jacquet, Jeffrey. 2005. Index Crimes, Arrests, and Incidents in Sublette County, 1995 to 2004: Trends and Forecasts. Sublette County, Wyoming, December 2005.
Jacquet, Jeffrey. 2006a. “So, How Many Out‐Of‐Town Workers Are There in Sublette County?” The Sublette County Community Partnership, August 2006. Available online at http://www.sublette‐se.org/outoftownessay.html.
Jacquet, Jeffrey. 2006b. “Sublette County, Wyoming Sales and Use Tax Report: Covering Sales and Use Tax Revenues for Fiscal Years 2001 through 2006.” The Sublette County Commission and The Sublette Community Partnership, 2006.
Jacquet, Jeffrey. 2006c. “Sublette County, Wyoming: A Brief History of Drilling 1995‐2005 ‐ The Socioeconomics of Gas.” Sublette County, Wyoming, Socioeconomic Analyst Advisory Committee, January 2006.
Jacquet, Jeffrey. 2009a. “An Introduction to Natural Gas Development and Workforces: Includes Glossary of Terms.” NERCRD Rural Development Papers. The Pennsylvania State University, The Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development, January 2009.
Jacquet, Jeffrey. 2009b. “Energy Boomtowns & Natural Gas: Implications for Marcellus Shale Local Governments & Rural Communities Working Paper.” NERCRD Rural Development Papers.
University Park, PA: The Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development, The Pennsylvania State University, January 2009. Available online at http://extension.psu.edu/naturalgas/publications/energy‐boomtowns‐and‐natural‐gasimplications‐for‐marcellus‐shale‐local‐governments‐and‐rural‐communities‐jan‐2009.
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Jacquet, Jeffrey. 2012. “The Boomtown Impact Model from Oil and Gas Drilling: Lessons Learned from Wyoming.” Webinar presented at the Western North Dakota Energy Project, February 10, 2012. http://www.visionwestnd.com/workshopsWebinars.asp.
Kadrmas, Lee and Jackson, Engineers, Surveyors, Planners. 2011. Dickinson [ND] 2035: Roadmap to the Future ‐ Comprehensive Plan Survey Initial Results. City of Dickinson, North Dakota, November 10, 2011. www.dickinsonplan.com.
Krannich, Richard S., Thomas Greider and Ronald L. Little. 1985. “Rapid Growth and Fear of Crime: A Four Community Comparison.” Rural Sociology, 50(2), 1985, pp. 193‐209.
LeFever, Julie A., Richard D. LeFever, and Stephan H. Nordeng, 2012. “Extending the Bakken.” presented at the Sixth Annual Montana Crime Prevention Conference, Billings Hotel & Convention Center, Billings, MT, October 25, 2012.
Marcellus Shale Education & Training Center. 2011. Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale Workforce Needs Assessment. Marcellus Shale Education & Training Center (MSETC), a collaboration of Pennsylvania College of Technology and Pennsylvania State University Extension, June 2011. Available online at http://www.shaletec.org/docs/PennsylvaniaStatewideWorkforceAssessmentv1_Final.pdf#zoom=75.
Mayda, C. 2011. “The Booms and Busts of Noonan, North Dakota.” FOCUS on Geography, 54(4), 2011, pp. 152–158.
Montana All Threat Intelligence Center (MATIC), and North Dakota State and Local Intelligence Center (NDSLIC). 2012. Impact of Population Growth on Law Enforcement in the Williston Basin Region, August 17, 2012.
Montana All Threat Intelligence Center (MATIC). 2012. “Boomtown the Impact of Oil Exploration on Law Enforcement.” presented at the Sixth Annual Montana Crime Prevention Conference, Billings Hotel & Convention Center, Billings, MT, October 25, 2012.
Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation, and Tom Richmond, Administrator, Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation. “Williston Basin Outlook ‐ Montana.” presented at the 2012 Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, Williston, North Dakota, May 23, 2012. Available online at http://www.ndoil.org/?id=279&page=2012+WBPC+Presentations.
Montana Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, and North Dakota Council on Abused Women’s Services / Coalition Against Sexual Assault. 2012. “First‐Ever Oil Boom Listening Summit Brings Together Crisis Intervention Centers, Leaders.” North Dakota Council on Abused Women’s Services, Coalition against Sexual Assault in North Dakota, July 13, 2012.
North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, and Lynn Helms, Director. “North Dakota Shale Projection: Williston Region.” Entrepreneur Coaching, Rural Policy Research Institute, Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, November 21, 2012. Available online at http://energizingentrepreneurs.adobeconnect.com/p2is85gadiv/.
North Dakota State University, and Center for Social Research. 2012a. North Dakota Statewide Housing Needs Assessment: Housing Forecast. North Dakota Housing Finance Agency, September 2012. Available online at http://www.ndhfa.org.
North Dakota State University, and Center for Social Research, 2012b. North Dakota Statewide Housing Needs Assessment: Survey of Stakeholders. North Dakota Housing Finance Agency, September 2012. Available online at http://www.ndhfa.org.
North Dakota State University, and Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, 2012a. Oil County Traffic Safety Survey, 2012 University. Fargo, North Dakota: North Dakota Department of Transportation, Traffic Safety Office, Safety Division, September 2012.
North Dakota State University, and Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, 2012b. An Assessment of County and Local Road Infrastructure Needs in North Dakota: Report to 63rd North Dakota Legislative Assembly. September 20, 2012.
North Dakota State University, North Dakota State University Extension, and Center for Community Vitality, 2011a. Concerns of the North Dakota Bakken Oil Counties: Extension Service and Other Organizations’ Program Responses to These Concerns. August 2011.
North Dakota State University, North Dakota State University Extension, and Center for Community Vitality, 2011b. Sustainability in Natural Resource‐Dependent Regions That Experienced Boom‐Bust‐Recovery Cycles: Lessons Learned from a Review of the Literature. 2011.
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Rural Dynamics, Inc., and Northern Plains Initiative. 2012. “The Community Challenges of Oil and Gas Development: What Montana Can Learn from North Dakota.” Rural Dynamics, Inc., Northern Plains Initiative News, 2012. Available online at http://www.ruraldynamics.org/email/oilarticle.html.
SafeTech Solutions, LLP, and North Dakota Department of Health, 2011a. A Crisis and Crossroad in Rural North Dakota Emergency Medical Services: A Report on an Assessment of Challenges Facing EMS in Rural North Dakota. North Dakota Rural EMS Improvement Project, June 2011.
SafeTech Solutions, LLP, and North Dakota Department of Health, 2011b. The Impact of Oil and Energy Development on Out‐of‐Hospital Emergency Medical Services: Dunn, Williams, Mountrail, and McKenzie Counties. North Dakota Rural EMS Improvement Project, June 2011.
Seifert, Laura. “A Basic Analysis of the Bakken Oil Boom: Precautions and Planning.” University of Minnesota. N.D.
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The Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development, Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, Pennsylvania State University. 2010. Baseline Socioeconomic Analysis for the Marcellus Shale Development in Pennsylvania. Appalachian Regional Commission, August 31, 2010. Available online at http://www.institutepa.org/PDF/Marcellus/MarcellusShaleStudy08312010.pdf.
The Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development, Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, 2011. Pennsylvania State University, and Cornell University. Pennsylvania Residents’ Perceptions of Natural Gas Development in the Marcellus Shale. Appalachian Region Commission, 2011. Available online at http://energy.wilkes.edu/PDFFiles/Public%20Opinion/PerceptionsofMarcellusShale.pdf.
The Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI), and Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, 2012. Policy Education White Paper – Western North Dakota Energy Project White Paper. Western North Dakota Energy Project, August 27, 2012. Available online at http://www.visionwestnd.com/pdf/meetingminutes/sept12/PolicyEducationWhitePaperWNDEP.pdf.
Theodori, Gene L. 2009. “Paradoxical Perceptions of Problems Associated with Unconventional Natural Gas Development.” Southern Rural Sociology, 24(3), 2009, pp. 97‐117.
University of Montana, Community Service Program, 1974. A Social Impact Study of Colstrip Generating Plants #3 and #4. July 21, 1974.
University of Montana, Community Service Program, 1975. A Study of Social Impact of Coal Development in the Decker‐Birney‐Ashland Area. May 31, 1975.
University of Wyoming Department of Sociology, 2004. Social and Economic Impact Assessment Of Oil and Gas Development In Sublette and Sweetwater Counties Sponsored. Shell Exploration & Production Company, September 2004.
U.S. Attorney’s Office, and Michael W. Cotter, United States Attorney, 2012. “The Bakken.” presented at the Montana Crime Prevention Conference, Billings Hotel & Convention Center, Billings, MT, October 25, 2012.
U.S. Government Accountability Office. 2012. Oil and Gas: Information on Shale Resources, Development, and Environmental and Public Health Risks Report to Congressional Requesters.
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The Big Bend Conservation Alliance is excited to partner 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. Boasting perhaps the largest traditional adobe arches in Texas, El Corazon Sagrado de la Iglesia de Jesus, Ruidosa was built by local townspeople in the early 1900s and used for decades for weddings, funerals, and Sunday mass. But as the town’s population began to decline in the 1950s, the church fell into disrepair and began to deteriorate. By 1991, its condition had reached a point that the Catholic Diocese of El Paso slated it for demolition. Fortunately, public outcry forced them to reverse their decision.
In 2006, through grants from the Texas Historical Commission (THC) and others, the church was stabilized and part of the left front tower was rebuilt. However, due to funding shortages, the project was abandoned and the church was, once again, left to the forces of nature.
This year, in an unprecedented development, the Catholic Diocese agreed to deed the church to Presidio County—a critical first step toward creating the “Friends of the Ruidosa Church”—a dedicated 501(c)3 organization to be formed in order to raise funds through tax-deductible donations. In the coming months, the BBCA plans to assist in developing a restoration plan and fundraising strategy to restore and protect this historically and architecturally significant vernacular structure. Stay tuned for future updates!
These images may provide some insight into what’s in store for the Delaware Basin, particularly the southern region of that basin. The composite image shows acreage leased by three of eight oil & gas producers in the basin, predominantly covering Reeves, and portions of Pecos, Jeff Davis, and Brewster counties – some 700,000 acres. The recent “find” announced by Apache Corp is included here, along the Reeves-Jeff Davis northeastern county line. The second image is the geographic extent of the Delaware Basin itself, included as an overall reference.
What you’ll see as this play develops should be alarming. The usual development of this kind of play involves multi-well pads, and bores with multiple, stacked laterals. A typical four-well pad completion will use 1,000,000 bbl. of water (42,000,000 gallons) over about a two week period. The flow-back operation will generate contaminated water, some of which is recovered, and potentially recycled. The remainder has to be either treated for disposal, or disposed of through deep-well injection (this is what is causing earthquake activity in North Texas and Oklahoma).
Someone has to put in take-away capacity for tens of thousands of barrels of crude oil, and NGL’s – pipelines, as well as the gathering lines from the well heads. Since this is primarily a rich, wet gas play, most of the production will be natural gas, and condensates (NGL), and some oil. And some water – depending on a variety of factors, tens to hundreds of thousands of barrels in an operating month – a good average for these formations is about 100,000bbl/month, or about 4,200,000 gallons of produced water, that comes back up with the stream. That contaminated water has to be hauled out…
There will be flaring activity during drilling and completion, less once the field is in production, as technically flaring gas wells is illegal under RCT and TCEQ/EPA rules. That is not to say there will be no flaring once the field is in production. Emergency shut-in of a well, compressor station, etc. all typically result in flaring, as do maintenance activities.
Since this is classified as a sour gas play (rich, wet gas often has a high H2S content), there will have to be one, or more gas plants capable of removing the sulfur from the stream, and drying the gas – gas plants of this type produce molecular sulfur, which is usually transported out in molten form by tanker, either truck or rail. Depending on the market conditions, the sulfur can be sold for industrial purposes (used in fertilizer, rubber, etc.) When the market is down, the producer either has to store the sulfur, or pay to have it hauled out – neither is a good thing.
Today’s 3D seismology, and petri-geology techniques are pretty good, but they are not perfect. What is happening underground, given the idiosyncratic nature of the geology and formations can be unpredictable. A bore excursion, a frack-out, a hidden fault that connects to other structures, like the water table, fluid migration, and other factors can, and does cause groundwater contamination. One of the existing 19 wells is adjacent to Balmorhea Lake… imagine the eventual web of horizontal bores permeating southern Reeves County, and the potential risks.
The greater concern is the level of industrialization related to developing an oil & gas play of this magnitude. While all eight producers holding lease interests in the region are likely over-stating the reserves, in some cases probably substantially, to try and prop up their shaky business by inflating stock prices, the impact on the region will be tremendous, even if only a fraction of this is developed and brought into production.
Notice the significant lease block in southeastern Brewster County, and its proximity to Big Bend National Park. The impacts include increased sky-glow, threatening the region’s dark skies, reduced air quality, due to combustion by-products from rig and site power, fugitive emissions, and flaring, water demands, and potential contamination of groundwater resources, increased dust from traffic on unpaved lease roads, wear & tear on county and state roads from oilfield traffic, increases in vehicle accidents, including fatalities, increased crime, and corresponding increased demands on area public safety, EMS and fire resources.
This is what the region has to look forward to, if development of these unconventional oil & gas resources proceeds in the Big Bend.
Keeping the Stars Bright Over Big Bend
Better lighting, using less energy, and saving more stars!
Come learn the basics of dark sky friendly lighting and how you can help protect the starry night skies over the Big Bend.
With Amber Harrison and Ryan Thorton of the Big Bend Ranch State Park and Matt Lara of the Big Bend Conservation Alliance.
At the Starlight Theater in Terlingua
Saturday, September 10
On Monday, August 22, the full Sunset Committee will be meeting to review the Texas Railroad Commission at the Texas Capitol.
Room E2.1-002 (the Members Lounge in the Capitol) has been reserved from 8a.m. – 12:30 p.m. for groups to meet and discuss. There will be presentations on the Sunset Committee, scientists on hand to share information, strategy sessions and more to help you prepare.
The Sunset hearing will be held in E1.030 and we believe the Railroad Commission’s portion will begin after noon.
You can participate in person by signing up in room E1.030 on a first come, first serve basis and giving a 3 minute testimony. It can also be accompanied by written testimony – be sure to bring 20 copies of your written comments to distribute to members and staff.
There is also a Facebook invite. Please invite your friends and share widely!
If you are not able to attend, you and anyone you know can participate electronically by following the instructions below.
For possible talking points for your testimony and comments, please consider the below bullets, as provided by other groups who will be participating Monday.
To submit electronically:
Public Citizen’s Oil & Gas Regulation Best Practices Study:
Structure of Agency
- Of the other states reviewed, only Oklahoma has full-time elected commissioners. However, the Corporation Commission has much broader jurisdiction than does the RRC, and the commissioners must have no direct or indirect interest in any regulated entity. Furthermore, there are limits on campaign contributions, with a prohibition on corporate contributions, for all elected offices, and in addition, contributions to Commission candidates, specifically, are limited to 120 days prior to primary and 120 days after general election.
- Those states with appointed commissioners are part time and generally have specific, required qualifications to ensure balance and diversity.
- Most states have oil and gas regulation under the environmental agency’s umbrella.
- Potential for conflicts of interest in policy making functions needs to be addressed; contested cases are not the only source for such conflicts. Comparisons lead to the inescapable conclusion that RRC commissioners’ ties to industry are clearly reflected in policies and decision making.
- What does not fall under the jurisdiction of the RRC? According to a link on its website, the answer is “railroads.” And then the public is redirected to the agencies that actually do have jurisdiction. There is no legitimate reason for the agency to keep its current, misleading name.
- There is an astounding lack of transparency at the RRC compared to other states. Many have searchable databases relating to inspections, complaints, and enforcement actions, including fines and penalties, by individual operator and in the aggregate, on their websites. While the RRC is busy on social media, putting out self-serving tweets, no useful information regarding these issues is readily available on their website.
- Reports and other public information are only as good as the data collected, and many states collect much more data and conduct many more studies than the RRC.
- Performance measures are nearly non-existent at the RRC. They seem fond of talking about how cutting edge their programs are, but provide nothing to back that up; and when compared to other states, these claims fall short.
- Misleading statistics and other information on RRC website relating to, e.g., enforcement issues, water pollution, seismic activity.
- Allowing another 12 years without review of an agency wholly unable to demonstrate that it is carrying out its mandated responsibilities is reckless and ill advised.
- Despite RRC figures indicating the average well plugging cost in FY 2015 was $5-$17/ft of actual well depth, plugging bonds for individual wells is set at $2/ft; and blanket bonds significantly less.
- Most states have higher bonding requirements, especially for horizontal wells, and some have additional bonding requirements in addition to plugging bonds, such as surface bonds to protect surface owners from damage.
- Permitting fees are significantly higher in some states and, as with bonding requirements, are designed to place the financial burdens on industry rather than the public, and take into account economic gain from noncompliance.
- The stated policy regarding penalties in many states is to set them high enough to ensure compliance in the first place and deter future violations.
- All of these issues should be treated as the cost of doing business, and borne by industry.
- Lack of performance measures at the RRC make it impossible to tell what is really going on.
- Unlike Texas, some states allow complainants to have a role in the enforcement process and decision making.
- The RRC lacks sufficient inspectors to inspect each well even once a year; they need to impose an annual inspection fee to help cover the additional costs necessary to carry out their mandated duty to protect public health and the environment.
- Establish minimum inspector-to-well ratio.
- Compliance evaluation capability requires inspections and surveillance procedures independent of information supplied by operators.
Environmental and Public Health Protection
- Striking differences in mission statements/mandates; much greater attempt to balance interests in most other states.
- Lack of acknowledgment or studies of problems associated with oil and gas development by RRC; very little monitoring conducted compared to other states.
- No environmental advocate at the RRC.
- Limited opportunities for public participation.
Please come join us Thursday August 25th, from 7-9 pm. as we celebrate 100 years of National Parks with our friends at Patagonia Austin. We’ll be there with the latest information about the Trans-Pecos Pipeline and other recent developments at BBCA, as well as letters on hand for residents from Travis, Bastrop and Williamson counties, asking their Sunset Commission Senators to make changes in the Railroad Commission of Texas.
Fantastic music provided by Dana Falconberry!
316 Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78701
Water management is often poorly understood. In order to better educate the public, the BBCA has recently established water committees in Brewster and Presidio Counties, with others to follow. Each committee has already met twice.
These committees will be working to educate area citizens about their local Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCDs) and the role that each of us can play in ensuring our water future. Established less than 20 years ago, most GCDs are chronically underfunded and thus ill-equipped to perform their duties. This comes at a time when rural areas, such as West Texas, are coming under increasing pressure from large cities and industrial interests to acquire water.
The Texas Water Code provides authority to GCDs to establish workable Groundwater Availability Models (GAMs) and define Desired Future Conditions (DFCs) in order to sustainably manage local water resources. However, as mentioned above, our Groundwater Conservation Districts currently lack the resources and data to effectively accomplish these goals.
GCDs have a variety of means to cover their operating expenses, including taxes, fees, and appropriating existing county funds; the most agreeable of these options is to institute fees on new wells, large agricultural users, and commercial water customers. Such fees would not affect small agricultural users or residential customers.
Another hurdle is the collection of the data necessary to establish GAMs and DFCs because some municipalities are exempt from the rules of the Groundwater Conservation Districts. This so-called “Midland exemption” is a mechanism that allows a city to sell water outside the authority of its county Groundwater Conservation District, which greatly distorts the available data on water use. A helpful analogy here would be a family that is trying to create a budget (GAMs) in order to save for the future (DFCs). Now imagine that one or more members of that family opts out of the budget. The available money could disappear more quickly than expected. And it would become impossible to effectively track how much money the family will have in the future.
Reliable GAMs and DFCs are critical to securing our water future. We are fortunate to have many knowledgeable local experts to help us. With our small population and relatively low water use, our water future could easily remain bright for generations to come. But this could change quickly, if our towns continue to sell water outside the planning process of the Groundwater Conservation Districts. It’s in everyone’s best interest to participate in a single water budget to ensure that we are saving for our shared future.
The good news is that there is no immediate threat. Unlike other regions of Texas and the country, our counties are well positioned to meet our short- and intermediate-term needs. The challenge lies in reaching a common consensus now, before the next big city or corporation comes along and upsets that delicate balance. According to Sarah Schlessinger, Executive Director of the Texas Association of Groundwater Conservation Districts, a robust and transparent Groundwater Conservation District is the single-best way for rural communities to remain viable in the face of inevitable growth in the state-wide demand for water.
Q&A with BBCA legal advisor Jim Bradbury about the Trans-Pecos Pipeline and eminent domain
Below is a Q&A with BBCA legal advisor Jim Bradbury, conducted by Nicol Ragland of Wolfbird productions. Nicol is presently in production on the Trans-Pecos documentary.
Nicol: Can you tell us your main concern in the legal system in relationship to the Trans Pecos Pipeline as well as similar infrastructure projects?
Jim: We in Texas have become so enamored and accustomed to the various elements of infrastructure that come with progress that we have given up the necessary obligation of managing those projects and how they play out on a local level. The Trans Pecos project may well be one of the penultimate examples of this reckless vacuum. The familiar refrain that we “need pipelines, transmission lines and highways” is of course true. But that’s a hollow way of looking at the issue. What’s more important is having a legal and governmental structure that ensures such projects take place at the right place, at the right time for the right reasons. Those questions can only be answered through a robust governmental process that enables citizens, landowners and interest groups to have a meaningful role. With pipelines, that process is entirely absent. That’s what concerns me most about the daunting consequences faced by the people in the Trans Pecos region. This pipeline and the route, was apparently drawn in a room in Mexico City. No one really knows for sure. The project was awarded on a bidding system to a private company and now it’s all too real for a large group of landowners who spend their days and nights worrying, angry and talking to lawyers about how much they will be paid for something they never wanted to lose. And there never was any time, place or meeting where the State of Texas considered whether this project was needed, whether the route was appropriate under all factors and why the project was taking place. A project of this magnitude and impact should have been the subject of studies, meetings, hearings and a determination by the State. We do this for school board decisions, highways, transmission lines and almost everything we encounter. But by law, Texas pipelines are immune to such process. And that leaves communities and landowners with no place to participate and address their views. Every landowner that is confronted with eminent domain has to go through a very difficult process that cannot be well understood by someone that hasn’t. But here with the Trans Pecos that scenario is compounded. The people that live in the Trans Pecos have a deeply rooted connection with the land and vistas in that region. They are unlike any Texans in other portion of this diverse state, because they are bound by place, not by heritage, food, religion or language. And that single thing that binds them-place is being removed from them as a function of a meeting somewhere by a handful of people looking to make money. And that reality is hard to take.
Nicol: Can you tell us what you’ve learned from the Texas Senate hearing addressing eminent domain reform?
Jim: Eminent domain has been a growing source of tension in Texas for many years. Citizens have grown very vocal about the imbalance that exists under the law between landowners and entities taking property for infrastructure projects. The main focus of the hearing in the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs was the inadequate compensation being afforded to landowners. The offers that are made to landowners are well below the values that landowners would consider a balanced transaction. Even one legislator commented that she had been through an eminent domain proceeding and left it wanting to chain herself to a tree that was to be lost. There is a tremendous concern over the state of eminent domain law in terms of its fairness to landowners and the leveraged process for taking property that it has become. Several legislators voiced the strong concern that many landowners have to the proposed high speed rail project between Dallas and Houston. That may well be the hottest political issue in Austin right now regarding eminent domain. I expect that when the Legislature begins in January that we will see multiple attempts to change and reform various aspects of the condemnation process.
Nicol: What is your opinion on the real value of the Boerschig case and his interest in taking this to the Supreme Court?
Jim: This case is very well drafted and obviously took significant time and effort to prepare. The arguments are novel but they have a great deal of truth in them. The suit raises the claim that the State of Texas has in essence handed the complete right to take private property to private pipeline companies without setting any real or meaningful standards. The state in essence gave the power away unchecked. And that I believe is a very powerful claim. Right now as I understand it the denial of the injunction is being appealed but the main case remains pending. If the suit proceeds to collect evidence on how this pipeline project came to be developed, who is involved and also the relative lack of role by the State of Texas, I think that it will pose a very significant issue for the federal judge hearing it. That is a question that very much needs an answer.
Nicol: How have you been witness to a group of citizens who have made a difference in legal reform?
Jim: I have seen this occur on numerous occasions. They key is whether the citizen groups can remain connected through the ups and downs and maintain a consistent and sustained message for change. Often in such efforts, there will be negative results early on and difficult days. But the ones who make it work through these times, keep their eye on the goal and continue to communicate to newspapers, interested citizens and policy makers. I saw this through the early days of fracking in the Barnett Shale. People were overwhelmed with the world around them changing so fast. But leaders emerged and they organized and began to set out what they wanted and how they went about it. And they began to see changes occur. Even on a small level, a group of citizens in central Texas concerned about the state leveling a set of ancient live oaks, they put countless hours into social media, news articles and letters and those trees are still there now. It can happen. But it takes a crafted set of messages and a commitment to stick with the goal for change even if it does not benefit you, but helps another group in the future.
Jim Bradbury is an environmental attorney serving as a strategic legal advisor to BBCA in order to preserve the pristine landscape of the Big Bend region and the unique people that live within it.’ http://bluewindpartners.com/
Clean Out your Closet for Big Bend
July 16, 2016
1200 Windsor Rd., Austin 78703
Details about donations:
“Clean Burning Natural Gas” For Mexico?
In recent conversations with journalists, and published in various media outlets, the topic of “Clean Burning Natural Gas” for Mexico has often arisen.
The consortium proposing the Trans-Pecos Pipeline project, suggests in various outlets, that the project represents an environmental benefit:
“[The Trans-Pecos Pipeline] Will benefit air quality in the region by replacing Northern Mexico’s fuel source with clean-burning natural gas. Northern Mexico’s power generation plants currently produce harmful greenhouse gases from burning diesel, coal and wood.”
Let’s take an opportunity to analyze, and debunk this, and similar statements and misconceptions.
This graph, from the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (“CFE”), shows the relative percentages of fuels used for generating electricity in Mexico:
Fossil-fuel, non-renewable sources include Natural Gas (47%), Fuel Oil (21%), and Coal (4%).
Mexico’s coal-burning facilities, Carbon I, Carbon II (northern Mexico), and Carbon III (South Central Mexico) include:
• Jose Lopez Portillo (Carbon I, Rio Escondido) Coal Power Station is located at Nava, Coahuila, Mexico. Location coordinates are: Latitude= 28.486194675435, Longitude= -100.69278717041. This infrastructure is of TYPE Coal Power Plant with a design capacity of 1200 MWe. It has 4 unit(s). The first unit was commissioned in 1982 and the last in 1982. It is operated by Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE).
• Carbon II Coal Power Station Mexico is located at Nava, Coahuila. Location coordinates are: Latitude= 28.46250406485, Longitude= -100.69398880005. This infrastructure is of TYPE Coal Power Plant with a design capacity of 1400 MWe. It has 4 unit(s). The first unit was commissioned in 1993 and the last in 1993. It is operated by Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE).
• Plutarco Elias Calles (Petacalco) (Carbon III) Thermal Power Plant Mexico is located at La Union, Guerrero, Mexico. Location coordinates are: Latitude= 17.982570118573, Longitude= -102.11603164673. This infrastructure is of TYPE Coal Power Plant with a design capacity of 2100 MWe. It has 6 unit(s). The first unit was commissioned in 1993 and the last in 1993. It is operated by Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE).
Mexico’s coal-fired generating units account for approximately 4% of the total generating capacity. They are all undergoing expansion of the coal bunkering (storage) facilities, expansion and modernization of their generating systems, and to date, the CFE has made no statement, or telegraphed in any way that Carbon I, III, or III would be, or are planned for decommissioning or reduction in operation as a consequence of expansion of the natural gas infrastructure.
Mexico’s waste (Renewables) generating facility is currently limited to a single unit, which burns pelletized agricultural and wood product waste:
• Golfo/Penoles Thermal Power Plant Mexico is located at 10 km NW of Tamuin, San Luis Potasi, Mexico. Location coordinates are: Latitude= 22.069096135144, Longitude= -98.846654891968. This infrastructure is of TYPE Waste Power Plant with a design capacity of 520 MWe. It has 2 unit(s). The first unit was commissioned in 2004 and the last in 2004. It is operated by Termoelectrica del Golfo (TEG) and Termoelectrica Penoles (TEP).
One of the more misleading statements made by the consortium suggests that a significant portion of Mexico’s generating capability is derived from burning “wood” – this is specious, at best. In reality, the Golfo/Penoes facility is a renewable energy project, which uses pelletized agricultural waste, including fiber, wood waste, and similar sources, in a controlled-combustion process that generates low emissions.
While it is true that in rural Mexico, individual energy consumers burn wood in cook-stoves, and for heating purposes, it is not true that natural gas will replace, reduce, or otherwise augment the use of wood – the infrastructure cost to deliver end-consumer natural gas is significant, and there are substantial barriers, including terrain, economic, and capital, precluding use of natural gas for this purpose.
So far, the evidence is incontrovertible – the proposed Trans-Pecos Pipeline project delivers no benefit environmentally, as it does not eliminate, reduce, or make a substantial impact on the use of coal-fired sources of generation, and the claim with respect to use of “wood” is deliberately misleading, and entirely false.
There are numerous (twenty-two) oil-fired generating units depicted here, all of which are in current service:
This map depicts Mexico’s combined-cycle, natural gas fired generating units:
We know from CFE resources that Mexico plans to convert seven oil-fired systems to combined-cycle, natural gas-fired units, and add five new combined-cycle generation plants.
There are twenty-two (22) oil-fired generation systems, and based on the CFE’s published plans, that total reduces from twenty-two to fifteen (15) after the completion (in a decade) of the conversion projects. That leaves the remaining fifteen oil-fired units in operation. This is a rough reduction of 30% in the oil-fired segment – recall that represents only 21% of Mexico’s current total generating capacity – reducing that fraction from 21% to about 15% of the total generating capacity, in about a decade.
With respect to oil-fired (which includes the misleading use of the term “diesel”) generating capacity, it is clear that the impact of additional natural gas capability is relatively small – a reduction of 30% of the nominal 21% component of Mexico’s generating capacity.
Summarizing to this point, we see that the consortium’s claims are at best wholly specious – with no net reduction in the use of coal, and no significant reduction in the use of fuel-oil generation systems, and discounting the consortium’s wholly false claims with respect to use of wood-fueled systems, the use of natural gas is making no significant contribution to improving air, or environmental quality in Mexico, or the neighboring United States.
Now consider the following:
- natural gas, or methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas some 20X (by conservative estimates) to 84X (by most estimates) more potent than CO2
- fugitive emissions of methane at all stages, from exploration and recovery (drilling), treatment, transmission, and distribution are significant: “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that more than 6 million metric tons of fugitive methane leaked from natural gas systems in 2011. Measured as CO2-equivalent over a 100 year time horizon, that’s more greenhouse gases than were emitted by all U.S. iron and steel, cement, and aluminum manufacturing facilities combined.”
- The addition of five new combined-cycle generation plants is additive to the CO2 contribution to the overall emissions load associated with Mexico’s electrical generating infrastructure, and has an associated, direct fugitive methane emissions component
The consortium’s claims fly in the face of this evidence, and logic – there is no environmental benefit associated with this project, either for Mexico, or for the United States – in terms of air quality, and many other significant environmental impacts, in large part the United States bears significant environmental harm. As we are the source of the exported natural gas, the U.S. must absorb the greenhouse gas impacts of fugitive methane emissions associated with exploration, production, and transmission, as well as environmental harm from contamination of groundwater, the impact of groundwater consumption associated with hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), and toxic emissions associated with flaring, processing, and transmission.
Before buying into the consortium’s claims that “[The Trans-Pecos Pipeline] Will benefit air quality in the region by replacing Northern Mexico’s fuel source with clean-burning natural gas. Northern Mexico’s power generation plants currently produce harmful greenhouse gases from burning diesel, coal and wood.”, consult the freely available resources here, and verify the facts for yourself: