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The Trans-Pecos Pipeline Project

The Trans-Pecos Pipeline is a proposed 143-mile pipeline that would bring natural gas from West Texas to the U.S.-Mexico border, as part of an agreement with the Mexican Federal Electricity Commission (CFE). At 42 inches wide and just under 1,200 pounds of pressure per square inch, the pipeline will carry as much as 1.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day after its projected completion in 2017. The gas transported by the pipeline will originate in Texas’s Permian Basin at Fort Stockton and travel the length of the line, currently projected to run east of the Davis Mountains, skirt the town of Alpine, and pass through the famous Marfa Lights as well as the historic town of Shafter on its way south to the border at Presidio, TX, and Ojinaga, Mexico. From there, it will be piped further into Mexico for industrial use and power generation. The holder of the contract for this project is a consortium that includes two large energy companies—Mexico-based Carso and Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners (ETP).

Community Concern

Texas Pipelines MapThe energy industry is an integral part of the Texas economy. Much of Texas is already covered in a maze of oil and gas transmission pipelines, but so far the Big Bend area has largely been reserved as a pristine natural landscape. It is one of the biggest intact bioregions in the country. The Big Bend area is a geologically rich, wide-open expanse of mountains, desert, and ranch land—the nearby UNESCO biosphere reserve Big Bend National Park is home to 1,200 species of plants and scores of mammals, birds, reptiles, and other animal species. The uniqueness of this area is widely recognized and was even a focal point of a 2010 bilateral cooperation discussion between President Obama and President Felipe Calderón. 

Though the exact route of the pipeline has yet to be finalized due to ongoing surveys being conducted by ETP and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) current environmental assessment period, the proposed direction shows the pipeline running through private ranch land, close to Big Bend Ranch State Park, and even closer to the Chinati State Natural Area, an undeveloped swath of land known for its diverse flora and fauna.

Many opponents of the pipeline—including two affected counties who fear the possibility of severe environmental degradation—have called for more federal oversight of the project. 

Community concerns about negative environmental impacts and inadequate federal oversight were compounded in June when, in Cuero, Texas, a pipeline owned by ETP and regulated by the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) exploded, releasing a fireball that could be seen more than twenty miles away. If such an explosion occurred in the semi-arid grasslands of the Big Bend region, resulting wildfires could be devastating. In addition, the Big Bend is part of the most seismically active area of the state, significantly increasing the risk of pipeline ruptures.

How can you get involved?

The FERC has extended the deadline for public comments until September 4, 2015 as it continues to conduct its environmental review of part of the planned Trans-Pecos Pipeline. The commission is currently studying the possible environmental impacts of the pipeline’s border crossing section—the part where it would cross underneath the Rio Grande and connect with another natural gas pipeline coming from the Mexican side. This environmental review is supposed to help regulators decide whether or not the pipeline is in the interest of the U.S. public and, ultimately, whether or not they should issue the border permit the project needs in order to bring natural gas from the Permian Basin to the power plants in Mexico.

To learn more about the Trans-Pecos pipeline and its projected impacts, visit the ETP site about the project, the Big Bend Conservation Alliance (BBCA) website, or follow Marfa Public Radio’s continuing coverage of the project’s progression. 

To learn how to submit a comment to the FERC during this extended period of review, visit the BBCA blog.

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Big Bend photo used courtesy of Katie Floyd.

"It is to the Creator of the universe, then, that we are accountable for what we do or fail to do to preserve and care for the earth and all its creatures." - US Catholic Bishops, Renewing the Earth, 1991, p. 6.