Opposition grows to the Trans Pecos Pipeline
By SASHA von OLDERSHAUSEN
ALPINE – A windstorm wailed outside the Alpine Public Library on Wednesday evening. Inside, the howls were just as embittered.
Nearly 200 area residents crowded into the library to participate in a meeting concerning the Trans Pecos Pipeline project, which was organized by the Big Bend Conservation Alliance. Another 50 or so flowed out onto the front lawn, barred from entering the building due to fire safety policies.
But the gathering, which was designated an “informational meeting,” more closely resembled a public forum for voicing dissent. The Big Bend Conservation Alliance impressed that it was not a meeting to oppose the pipeline. However, it soon became evident that few voices in the audience strayed from that stance, and that the information available was still very much rooted in speculation.
Chief among the questions posed by audience members was the issue of whether or not the pipeline project will include compression stations, which would require much more infrastructure, and thereby have a more significant environmental impact.
Representatives from Energy Transfer – one of the energy companies comprising the consortium of companies that will head the pipeline project – have stated that the initial plan will not consist of compression stations. However, several audience members expressed skepticism over that claim.
Additionally, concerns over a 23-acre plot of land in west Alpine that was recently cleared by the pipeline construction service Pumpco, Inc., which has worked with Energy Transfer on projects in the past, incited more speculation.
Suzanne Bailey, who lives south of the property in question, said she had been told it would be used as a man camp.
But when Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson, who had heard about the work crew kicking up a lot of dust and had concerns about possible auto accidents, went to check out the scene, he heard a different story entirely.
“They told me that the area that they’re clearing off is the pipe yard for their equipment. Their office will be there. That’s what they were telling me,” Dodson said.
Others heard that the land would be used as a compression station. Pumpco Inc. could not be reached for comment.
Such has been the general trend of issues surrounding the pipeline project: since very little information has been made publicly available, much of the emerging details of the proposed project can only be attributed to hearsay.
But for many residents of the Big Bend region, this is cause enough to fuel the fire of dissent. Emotions reached fever pitch at the meeting, and at one point even led to a verbal standoff between two attendees.
Bill Green, an environmental consultant who previously managed two large gas plants, removed himself from the meeting after his comments – which suggested that the pipeline in question was not as environmentally harmful as many might think due to the type of gas it was transporting, and the infrastructure that would be used – were met with rebuke from other attendees.
“You’re a liar!” said one audience member.
In a later interview, Green said, “I came out here because I’ve got properties in the area. I thought they needed to get the real facts – like the difference between a compression station and a booster station, or between the production of gas and market gas.”
He added, “The pipeline will happen. It’s a matter of how we as a community are going to minimize the environmental impact and make it a positive thing.”
But many still hold out the hope that the pipeline can be stopped. The Big Bend Conservation Alliance’s chief message during the meeting was to encourage people to sign its petition that appeals to President Obama to reject the Trans Pecos Pipeline. A total of 100,000 signatures are required for the petition to even be seen by the president, the quota of which must be met by May 5. At present, the petition has garnered 1,797 signatures.
In the event that the petition fails to prevent the pipeline from becoming a reality for the region, the alliance’s back-up plan is to work with area landowners to create a negotiating strategy with the pipeline company that would best support the environmental health of the region.
“But ‘plan B’ is irrelevant right now,” said the Big Bend Conservation Alliance’s David Keller.
In either case, the oil and gas industry is a force to be reckoned with, and an effort of this magnitude no doubt requires organization and leadership. And if the meeting was any indication, the Big Bend Conservation Alliance has a long way to go.
“The Big Bend Conservation Alliance has been so democratic, we don’t have any leadership structure at all. We don’t have a bank account,” Keller said. “But that can change.”
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Mark Glover, another representative from the alliance.
Keller told audience members, “We have got to be educated, and we have got to ask good, hard questions.” He encouraged the audience to attend one of the three open house meetings that will be held by the pipeline company on April 21 and 22 in Presidio, Alpine and Fort Stockton.
A lucid voice from the audience spoke up: “The most imminent thing is that meeting on the 21st and to try to get some honesty and transparency and accountability. I think we need to go in prepared to be a little dispassionate – as hard as it is,” she said adding, “A lot of what we’re saying – it’s all upsetting – but a lot of it is still speculation and in order to make the right choices, we have to have the true information.”
The tone took a more optimistic turn at the meeting’s end, and people filed out the library doors to find that the sun had crept out for long enough to cast a double rainbow against the vast West Texas sky.
The warm palate of the setting sun was an easy reminder of why so many people feel threatened by the prospect of a gas pipeline in the region.
“The Big Bend is the last frontier in a lot of ways,” said Glover. “I’m just a little amazed that a couple billionaires who could really do something innovative have decided to do the same old thing.”
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