Trans-Pecos Pipeline Donations to the Region

We are happy to see Trans-Pecos Pipeline is following industry standard and donating money to the communities it has affected. The $2.8 million donation is approximately the amount of TPP’s gross transportation revenue for a single day of pipeline operation, based on natural gas prices in today’s market. The donations will be used to build and support much-needed projects, like the library in Alpine and a new recreational complex in Presidio. Brewster County and Alpine will also invest some of these funds in emergency services, with the help of matching contributions from other sources.

In light of the good news, we want to keep TPP’s donations in perspective. Thirty-nine area landowners went to court for low-ball easement offers on their properties, won fairer settlements and still have not been compensated by TPP. The cost of clean-up for an explosion event, should one happen, will
fall initially on the communities. For example, the Cuero fire in June of 2015 cost DeWitt Country and associated utilities around $800,000 to repair roads and electrical lines. They will need to negotiate or even sue to be compensated. Our region is susceptible to higher damages and more extreme emergency situations. Remember the Rock House Fire that swept through Big Bend in 2011 caused an estimated $4.3 million in damages.

We are not taking an alarmist approach, but want to recognize that oil and gas projects in our area are not risk-free and come with other price tags: the cost to our local landowners and the cost of safety of our community. It is important to remember these issues as we continue to see an uptick of activity in our area, and to keep in mind that although there are benefits like these voluntary donations, there is more that may be lost.

2017 West Texas Water Symposium – April 22, 2017

The first West Texas Water Symposium took place on April 22, 2017 in Alpine at the Granada Theater. More than 80 people attended from across Texas. Audio and video recordings and PowerPoint presentations from the symposium are posted below, followed by a complete schedule.

The symposium was organized by the Big Bend Conservation Alliance, in partnership with Rio Grande Research Center at Sul Ross State University and Devils River Conservancy.

The Big Bend Conservation Alliance thanks the symposium’s sponsors: 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 * Taste and See Bakery * Marfa Public Radio




(Formatted as Quicktime movies on YouTube)

    Jack Sharp, University of Texas at Austin, Carlton Professor of Geology


8 – 8:50am Meet and Greet with symposium participants, partners, and sponsors (coffee and pastries)
8:50 – 9am Introduction to BBCA and symposium
Kevin Urbanczyk, Rio Grande Research Center, Sul Ross State University Geology Dept.
Jack Sharp, University of Texas at Austin, Carlton Professor of Geology
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
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
Sharlene Leurig, The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, Texas Environmental Flows Initiative Project Director
3:10 – 3:20pm Break
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

Reseeding and Restoration Along Pipeline Easement

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.” [1]

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 [2]

“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.”

[2] “New Study Underscored Fragility of Southern
California Deserts,” USGS News Release, October 22, 1999.

Photograph Courtesy of Chris Sweeny, Sunny Glen

balmorhea state park image

Action Item- Protest Letter: Injection Wells in Fracking Play, Northern Big Bend Region

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.

Hydrostatic discharge update

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.

Who Enforces Pipeline Safety Procedures in Texas? No one.

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:

You can visit RCT on the web here:

Safety regulations promulgated by the RCT for Texas pipelines are here:

Concern Over Lack of Testing on the Trans-Pecos Pipeline

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 (…). 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 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.

Texas Flares Enough Gas Every Month to Supply 5.6 Million U.S. Homes

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:…/oil-ga…/faq-flaring-regulation/