The proposed Trans-Pecos Pipeline threatens to destroy what is special about the Texas Big Bend and would set a dangerous precedent in an area largely untouched by industry.
The Big Bend has escaped the kind of industrialization that has marred most of the rest of the country. If this pipeline is built, that could all change. There is no precedent in this region for the scale of ground disturbance required during construction: a 125-foot wide corridor would be bladed the entire 143 mile length of the pipeline. In the process, it would cut through intact native grasslands and desert scrublands and across intermittent and ephemeral desert streams.
Nor would the pipeline occur in isolation. With it, a network of new roads and associated pipeline infrastructure such as block valves, meters, and blowdown stations would also be built. In the process, the pipeline and its infrastructure would fragment one of the largest intact bioregions in the country and the scars would remain indefinitely, diminishing the beauty of the Big Bend’s pristine landscape.
Aside from the effects on the quality-of-life for residents, such changes could wreck our tourism-based economy. Over time, revenue generated from eco-tourism and heritage tourism would decline as those values across the region would incrementally diminish.
As one of the last un-industrialized areas in the country, the BBCA believes that such pipelines are inconsistent with the traditional values of the region, and that it’s construction would be nothing short of tragic. The United States is covered in a maze of oil and gas transmission pipelines. But these huge pipelines still end in the Permian Basin, stopping well short of the Big Bend.
If this pipeline is built, additional pipelines could be laid along the easement. Spur lines could be built to take gas to other sources. Over time, compressor stations will be constructed along its length. And with each additional piece of infrastructure, we inch closer to becoming yet another casualty of industrialization.
Examples of similar pipeline construction:
42″ Ruby Pipeline under construction in the Nevada Desert, BLM Land, 2010
42″ Constitution Pipeline under construction in the Nebraska rolling hills, 2015
A mid-line compressor station on the 42″ Ruby Pipeline in western Colorado, 2011
- The proposed Trans-Pecos Pipeline (TPP) is to be a high-pressure 42-inch diameter transmission pipeline intended to transport massive quantities of fracked natural gas to power plants in Mexico—enough to power a city of 6.6 million people annually.
- The pipeline is slated to run south from a hub near Coyanosa—through Pecos, Brewster, and Presidio Counties—cross into Mexico at the Rio Grande 12 miles above Presidio and continue to El Encino, Chihuahua, where it will split—one branch going to La Laguna, the other to Topolobampo on the West Coast.
- The TPP was planned by the Mexican Federal Energy Commission to be part of Mexico’s energy infrastructure—a portion of 10,000 miles of pipeline being built to fuel more than 20 new power plants in Mexico as a component of their energy reform.
- Aside from U.S. pipeline companies, the project will only benefit Mexico and will re-invigorate the U.S. fracking industry, an environmentally damaging method of extracting natural gas from shale. Increased exports of natural gas would also drive up U.S. electricity prices and encourage further use of dirty coal power.
- The TPP is likely part of a much larger plan not being publicly discussed. Because the pipeline will terminate on Mexico’s west coast, it may play a role in a major trade agreement known as the Trans Pacific Partnership that will allow liquefied natural gas (LNG) to become a leading export item to energy-hungry countries like Japan.
- The pipeline company claims TPP to be a “gas utility” so that it can condemn land from any landowners who resist. Essentially this land would be taken for use by Mexico.
- Only a 1,093-foot segment of the pipeline, and associated infrastructure of the “transfer facility” at the Rio Grande, will require review under the National Environmental Policy Act. The remaining 143 mile length of the pipeline, passing through intact Chihuahuan Desert grasslands, requires no environmental or cultural review.
- No permit is required to build a commercial natural gas pipeline in Texas, only a permit to operate—issued without review by the Texas Railroad Commission.
- Not a single regulatory agency, at the local, State, or Federal level, has any significant jurisdiction. There is almost no opportunity for the public to weigh in.
- Construction and maintenance will be overseen by a consortium of energy companies including Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), MasTec Inc. and Carso Energy. These companies are owned by Kelcy Warren and Carlos Slim—two of the richest men in the world.
- The consortium’s bid of $767 million was almost half of what was budgeted for the pipeline, suggesting they may select materials and compressor station components based upon the lowest cost rather than safety or health concerns.
- The proposed pipeline will have bi-directional capability and will be able to send or receive up to 1.35 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.
- The pipeline’s proposed route has it running along the northern edge of the town of Alpine and between the town and the rural subdivision of Sunny Glen.
- Natural gas transmission lines place people and the land in jeopardy, especially in a seismically active area such as the Big Bend. The “blast zone” for a 42-inch pipeline is about three and a half football fields in distance from the rupture.
- During construction, a 125-foot-wide swath of land will be excavated approximately 3 feet deep. Within that swath, a trench will be dug an additional 5 feet to accommodate the pipeline; the scale of ground disturbance will be unprecedented in this region.
- Following construction, a 75-foot-wide permanent easement will be maintained; vegetative growth will be controlled by herbicide or brush cutting equipment. Associated infrastructure minimally includes block valve and blowdown stations enclosed in chain link fences and a new network of roads.
- Despite company claims there are “no plans for compression in the initial project,” one or more huge compressor stations are likely to be built along the line to pressurize the gas. These loud, brightly lit stations run 24 hours a day; regular maintenance “blowdowns” emit huge amounts of natural gas and toxic chemicals into the atmosphere such as methane, benzene, toluene, sulfuric oxide, and formaldehyde.
- Construction and maintenance activities will pose many ecological threats including water loss and possible contamination, soil erosion, habitat fragmentation, and the introduction of non-native, invasive plant species.
- Water use during construction and hydrostatic testing of the pipeline will consume between 500 million and 1.5 billion gallons of water, most of which is non-recoverable.
- Because no cultural resource review is required, pipeline construction will impact or destroy archeological sites along the route.
- Letters requesting access from landowners have been vague on location and threatening in tone. Pipeline surveyors have been caught trespassing on private property.
- Very few jobs will be created as ETP will primarily bring in its own workers. Jobs that are offered locally are likely to be short-term.
- Although ETP has said Presidio (or any municipality) could “tap into“ the pipeline, the required infrastructure to do so, at cost of between $7 and $12 million dollars, would be prohibitive.
- The ad valorem tax ETP will pay the counties is unlikely to even offset the cost of damage to roads from heavy equipment or the upgrades needed for the Emergency Management Services to meet the additional risks of leaks and explosions. Nor will it offset the loss of revenue from impacts to tourism, the region’s economic mainstay. These tax payments are based on the value of the pipeline itself, which depreciates over time. Thus, the tax payments will decrease as the pipeline ages—and risks of leaks or explosions rise.
The United States is covered in a web of oil and gas transmission pipelines, but all end in the Permian Basin. The Big Bend is one of few places that remain free of oil and gas infrastructure.
The Big Bend is the last frontier of Texas; the last unindustrialized place in the state. For industry to get a toehold here would facilitate additional infrastructure and a greater industrial presence.