The Big Bend Group ǀ Sierra Club was founded in June 1996 by Sierra Club members in Far West Texas with a common goal — to preserve and protect the unique beauty and integrity of our region for the enjoyment of all.
Reggie James, Director of the Lone Star Chapter of Sierra Club, will speak Saturday on the Club’s efforts to stop pipeline construction, limit the expansion of fracking, and halt construction of liquefied natural gas facilities. Mr. James will discuss the Club’s “on-the-ground” work in local communities, in the courts, and with the legislature. The event will begin at 7 p.m. in the Espino Conference Center of the Morgan University Center at Sul Ross State University. Everyone is invited to this free event.
Mr. James is an innovative non-profit executive with over 25 years of experience in consumer and environmental policy and advocacy. As former director of the Southwest Regional Office of Consumers Union in Austin, his work included national online organizing and legislative and regulatory advocacy for consumer concerns, including healthcare, financial services, energy, telecommunications, food safety, public health, environmental problems and improved legal representation for low-income Americans. He is a Navy nuclear submarine veteran. With over 20,000 members, the Lone Star Chapter is the oldest grassroots environmental organization in Texas.
Regardless of the title, the content is disappointing, to say the least, if not rather alarming to those of us who have BY NO MEANS given up the fight. On the contrary, numerous important strategies are currently in play, some in their very earliest stages. In case anyone had any doubt: the opposition has a long, long way to go before giving up the fight becomes an option. Frankly, we've got no time to think about that right now...because we're too busy opposing the pipeline.
Battle over Big Bend pipeline enters the final rounds
By: John MacCormackDecember 14, 2015 Updated: December 14, 2015 3:09pm
ALPINE — After months of fending off overtures and dealing with trespasses by pipeline surveyors on his 4,400-acre ranch south of Marfa, James Spriggs was forced last week to open his gates to the enemy.
Spriggs, 69, has been among the holdouts delaying construction of the proposed 143-mile Trans-Pecos Pipeline that would deliver up to 1.4 billion cubic feet of Permian Basin natural gas daily to Mexico.
Estimated to cost $767 million, the pipeline would run from Waha, a collection facility west of Fort Stockton, south through Pecos, Brewster and Presidio counties. The planned route could cross into Mexico about 12 miles upriver from Presidio to hook up with a Mexican pipeline.
The pipeline consortium includes Carlos Slim, the richest man in Mexico, and Energy Transfer Partners, led by CEO Kelcy Warren, who Forbes says is worth $6.7 billion. The project is being built for the Mexican Federal Electricity Commission.
Last month, lawyers for Trans-Pecos Pipeline LLC filed the first condemnation suit in district court in Presidio County against a landowner who had refused access to his property.
Spriggs relented after his lawyer advised him that unless he granted access, he would be sued by the energy company, and would end up not only losing the court fight, but paying his adversaries’ legal bills as well.
Construction now is set to begin in January, eight months after news of the pipeline triggered shock waves in the region. Some fear the massive energy project will open up the unspoiled Big Bend to development and exploration that will change it forever.
“I grew up in Crane, Texas. I had pump jacks 100 yard from my bedroom window and there was always an awful smell in the air,” said Monica McBride of Alpine. “I’m pro oil and gas. I benefited from a great education in Crane. I’m also the Republican county chair. But I’m against it.”
When the Spriggs family acquired the remote, hardscrabble ranch two decades ago, little could they have foreseen providing an easement for a large pipeline.
The project has already caused Spriggs’ deer hunters to cancel their leases, costing him $10,000. But that is trivial next to his other concerns.
“When it blows up, it will be like an atomic bomb going off. A 42-inch pipeline under high pressure is a bomb. And they won’t even know about it for two hours,” he said of the pipeline operators.
His concern has precedent. In June, another 42-inch gas pipeline owned by the same company, Energy Transfer Partners, exploded near Cuero, sending a 100-foot ball of fire into the air.
Investigators for the Texas Railroad Commission determined that an improperly installed section of pipe had led to the failure.
An Energy Transfer spokesperson said this week that the Trans-Pecos project is proceeding as planned.
“We have started the process of securing voluntary easement agreements from landowners along the route and are finalizing our construction plans,” said Vicki Granado of Granado Communications Group in Dallas.
Regulators hear outcry
The Big Bend is a strikingly beautiful region of vast parks, open cattle range and scenic mountains that draws hundreds of thousands of tourists a year.
For many Texans, the Big Bend represents the last unspoiled part in the state, a special place of cultural, historical and even spiritual significance that deserves protection from development and disruptive change.
In a region where private property rights always have been held as inviolable, news that an energy company could condemn land and put a pipeline through it was a hard truth to swallow.
While some public officials and business leaders in the Big Bend have quietly come to accept, if not welcome, the pipeline — which would generate new tax revenue and temporary jobs — many area residents continue to passionately oppose it.
Opponents have pushed back hard, appealing to elected officials, exploring legal avenues and trying to slow the project down in any possible way. A number of landowners have refused to cooperate with attempts to survey the intended route.
Opponents also appealed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which must approve a permit to send the pipeline under the Rio Grande into Mexico.
More than 600 letters were submitted to FERC this fall, raising a host of substantive environmental, public safety and legal objections. Many writers asked FERC to consider the adverse effects of the entire 143-mile pipeline, not just the short river crossing.
The commission has repeatedly declared it has no jurisdiction over that stretch, but agency Chairman Norman Bay has also promised that his staff will consider “the environmental impacts of the planned upstream pipeline facilities” in preparing the assessment.
Texas easement law largely favors the energy companies, giving them powers of condemnation of private land. Some landowners have already acquiesced, and as each day passes, the likelihood of blocking the pipeline appears to be fading.
Miles of heavy green steel pipe are stored in a field beside Interstate 10 east of Fort Stockton. In Alpine, heavy equipment is starting to arrive at a yard west of town owned by Pumpco, which will install the pipe.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if tomorrow we see the first loads of pipe roll into Alpine, and they start trenching. There’s nothing we can do if they have a signed easement from the landowner,” said Coyne Gibson, one of the opposition leaders.
Gibson led a seminar at the public library on Dec. 7 for landowners on the technical intricacies of condemnation and eminent domain. The dozen landowners also were coached on how to negotiate an easement with the energy company.
After viewing large photos of other major pipeline projects, showing 125-foot-wide swaths cut through similar fragile desert country, and others of botched restoration efforts, Gibson got down to business.
Using a copy of a Trans-Pecos Pipeline LLC easement form, he walked his audience through critical terms unfavorable to the landowner, from restoration, to access, to the “in perpetuity” clause.
And his underlying message was succinct: “Lawyer up!”
At the close of the session, the head of the local branch of the Sierra Club announced that his group was pulling out of the fight.
“We’ve reached a point where unless we think we can stop this, we’re not pouring any more money into it,” said Roger Siglin, 79, who said the group had already spent at least $8,000 on legal advice.
“As I tell my friends in the Sierra Club, I have no hope,” he said afterward, about protecting the Big Bend.
Others who oppose the pipeline say surrender is not an option. Certain legal strategies have yet to be exercised, and there is also the possibility of other forms of resistance.
“I don’t think this is inevitable. There are a lot of people here who do not want this to happen and will put themselves on the line,” said Alyce Santoro, a conceptual artist who lives in Alpine.
“If they were to start digging, there are people here who are prepared to do direct action, to chain themselves to the equipment,” she added.
To others in the region, such opposition is foolhardy and misguided.
With the pipeline projected to add $1.2 million annually in new tax revenue in Brewster County alone, Alpine school board member James Jones is eager for its arrival.
“The pipeline will generate $750,000 a year in new school taxes. In a few years, we could pay for a new high school,” said Jones, 73, who says a majority of the board agrees with him.
“They want no change on this earth,” he said of opponents.
Brewster County Judge Eleazar Cano is taking a more nuanced approach, but does not oppose the pipeline, which he suspects is likely unstoppable.
“I believe a large silent majority is in favor of this,” Cano said.
And while he will be grateful for the additional tax revenue, he also fears the pipeline could bring additional unwanted change.
“Brewster County is pretty much virgin territory. These are the first steps toward becoming part of the Permian Basin,” he added.
Cano likened the situation to a David and Goliath confrontation, in which the local community is confronted by a dangerous giant.
“It’s a beast, it’s scary, and a lot of us are afraid of the unknown, but how do we tame it?” he said.
Alpine Mayor Avinash Rangra opposes the pipeline, saying Energy Transfer Partners has not been forthcoming with critical information.
“It’s like way back when the Indians were told about the Iron Horse. It’s for progress, like we are being told, don’t stand in the way. But what happened to the Indians?” he asked.
Joel Nelson, 70, who with his wife Sylvia runs cattle on 15 sections east of Alpine, said the pipeline will go through a mile of the northern edge of his ranch.
While he opposes the pipeline, Nelson has thus far has maintained civil relations with the energy company representatives. But, he said, he’s a long way from agreeing to the easement they have offered him.
“Their original offer in September was $90 a rod, which is about $5.40 a foot. The last time I talked to him, he said he could go as high as $180, double the original offer,” said Nelson.
But, he said, based on what landowners in other areas have been paid, he thinks even that is far too low.
“We are thinking they should increase their original offer five or six times before we’re interested in visiting with them,” he said. He’d also like about a mile of fence installed to keep cattle off the reseeded easement strip.
At the end of the day, said Nelson, landowners are holding the weaker hand.
“I don’t think we hold any cards honestly. To avoid the time and expense of legal action, we’ll probably settle,” he said. But it won’t be with a smile on his face or peace in his heart.
“It’s the fact that it will go through some of the most beautiful open range country in Brewster and Presidio Counties, and it will disrupt and affect so many people. It’s a scene I can’t stand,” he said.
Fracking, Methane and Paris
By Jennifer Krill, EcoWatch
21 December 15
The newly-minted Paris climate agreement calls for limiting global temperature increase to 2°C, and leaves in the preamble the more aspirational goal shared by many countries of 1.5°C. It’s clear to observers around the world that meeting this goal is going to require steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and leaving most of the world’s remaining fossil fuels in the ground.
And that includes natural gas, particularly fracked natural gas.
This target is particularly important for anti-fracking activists. Those on the frontlines of the oil and gas industry’s “shale boom” expansion know all too well that there is a lot of pollution coming off of those wells, compressor stations, pipelines, etc. They can’t avoid it. It’s in their homes. It’s giving them nosebleeds, asthma, rashes and a host of other health problems.
Although volatile organic compounds like benzene (a carcinogen) are directly harming residents’ health, they are toxic hitchhikers on methane, which which comprises the vast majority of oil and gas air pollution. Methane, another name for “natural gas”, is also a potent greenhouse gas, 86 times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide over 20 years—the timeframe in which world leaders just agreed we need to peak in global emissions.
Carbon dioxide sticks around in the atmosphere much longer than methane—over 100 years, methane is “only” 34 times worse for the climate. But in 100 years, unless we stop methane pollution by taking a global energy u-turn, we will be living on the equivalent for another planet.
Because methane is so potent in the short term, our stinky little asthma-inducing bad neighbor has emerged as the top priority for preventing climate chaos. If we reduce carbon dioxide today, from burning coal, oil and natural gas, then we begin reducing global warming impacts in 40 years. If we reduce methane now, we reduce global warming now.
The Obama Administration acknowledges this. It’s the reason why they’ve proposed new rules to cover methane pollution from a subset of new oil and gas operations. But in order to address this problem, they need to address all oil and gas methane pollution. And that means, ultimately, keeping it in the ground.
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