The landmen cometh: surveyors make first move on Trans Pecos pipeline
March 12th, 2015 under Home Story Highlight
By SASHA von OLDERSHAUSEN
FAR WEST TEXAS – Several days ago, Elizabeth “Liz” Sibley and her husband Hiram – Brewster County residents of some 40 years – received a large envelope in the mail. Inside was a copy of The State of Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights and a typewritten letter.
“Dear Hiram and Elizabeth,” the letter, addressed by Legacy Field Services, stated. “Trans Pecos Pipeline LLC is developing a natural gas liquids pipeline project in Brewster County, Texas that may cross property in which you have an interest. At this stage of development, Comanche Trail Pipeline LLC is only requesting your permission to conduct surveys on your property to evaluate a potential route.”
The letter did not state which of the six properties that the Sibleys own they wanted to survey.
“They said they want to do a survey but they didn’t give us any specific information on our property,” Liz Sibley said. “It was extremely ambiguous, and I think the ambiguity sends out the wrong message.”
Such are the first development rumblings of the “Trans Pecos Pipeline,” a 42-inch pipeline that will span 143 miles underground from Waha, near Coyanosa, to Presidio and eventually cross the border at Ojinaga, Chihuahua, Mexico where it will supply natural gas to the northern, western and central parts of the country.
The pipeline, which is being led by a consortium of energy companies including Energy Transfer Partners, MasTec Inc. and Carso Energy, has already become a divisive issue among West Texas residents, some of whom fear that the project will attract the trappings of the gas and oil industry to the area. Others, like local officials from the financially struggling town of Presidio, see the project as an economic opportunity.
The Sibleys weren’t the only ones to get the mail. More than 300 letters have been sent to area landowners, many of whom have the same concerns about the vagueness of the information they have been provided.
Chris Lacy, who owns and operates the O6 Ranch in Jeff Davis and Brewster counties, also received the letter.
“We don’t know where it’s going, we don’t know what part of the property it’s going through,” Lacy said. “We don’t know if it’s going along the Santa Fe railroad or if it’s going to follow the transmission line from Fort Stockton.”
Much of that ambiguity stems from the fact that Trans Pecos Pipeline LLC does not yet have a precise route.
Lisa Dillinger, a spokeswoman for the Trans Pecos Pipeline said, “We’re at the very beginning stages. We can’t give a whole lot of details yet until we conduct those land surveys.”
According to Dillinger, the pipeline group has sent out survey permissions to landowners that would be on the proposed route as well as to those about a quarter mile past that route—“just to mitigate any possible impact to the environment,” she said.
These surveys are comprised of three elements – environmental, civil and cultural assessments – which are conducted to determine whether there are any existing structures in the area that have not been recorded, different animal habitats, and anything sensitive to a particular property such as a gravesite or a shed.
Once the route is mapped out, she said, the pipeline group would then commence the legal process of filing easements. And while no payment is being offered to conduct the surveys, Dillinger said landowners could expect to receive compensation for the easements.
Additionally, she said the pipeline would not impinge on the property owner’s ability to use the land—to a certain extent.
“The construction for the pipeline will not take very long and we will completely restore the land to its prior use,” Dillinger said. “Landowners can absolutely use the land above it – they just can’t build a permanent structure on it.”
Commercial operation of the pipeline is slated to begin at the end of the first quarter in 2017. According to Dillinger, the pipeline group plans to file for its presidential permit in four months. Until that time and beyond, it will conduct these surveys.
“The surveys are part of finding the best route with the least impact,” Dillinger said, adding, “It would behoove [the landowners] to create good communication early on and ask questions and have a say. We want to work with landowners and be partners with them and figure out the best and most economic and most efficient route.”
However, area landowners who have received the survey letters claim that the communication they have been offered has been inadequate, at best.
The letters did provide the name and contact information of a point person – Jeff Ray – who is responsible for fielding any questions that they may have. While Sibley has not yet reached out to him, Chris Lacy said he had his brother-in-law, a lawyer, contact Ray. And still, many of his questions remain unanswered.
“They’re not forthright, they’re not letting us know,” Lacy said. “I want to work with them, and if we can work all this out, then great. But they’re just acting like they’re not going to tell us everything and they’ve got to come through us.”
He added, “Everyone is upset about it. I’ve talked to several people in the area and they’ve gotten these letters. You talk to any of the people involved and they feel the same way as I do.”
Other frustrations have stemmed from the seemingly underhanded way in which some of the surveys have been conducted. Another rancher in the area allegedly found a surveyor on his land without his permission, according to Lacy, who declined to give the name of the rancher.
“The rancher was going to do something on the ranch and he found this surveyor out there,” said Lacy. “There were ‘no trespassing’ signs and everything.”
Now, the rancher plans to file suit for trespassing, according to Lacy. “I guess they feel they’re entitled to go out there and start all this without us,” he said.
Lacy expressed hope that they can cooperate with those involved in the project. However, he added, transparency is essential to creating a cooperative relationship.
“All we got was two little old letters and a form to fill out. You think we’re going to do that?” he said. “Hell no.”
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