Friday, July 3, 2015

A Gas Pipeline Under the Rio Grande? Watch Out San Eli

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A few persons in Far West Texas (i.e., El Paso) are aware of the controversy of building a gas pipeline from the Waha Oil Field in Pecos County through the most pristine land in Texas: the Big Bend. Plans to build this pipeline have fueled quite a rebellion led by the Big Bend Conservation Alliance. Naturally folks down there should be concerned for their environmental and cultural treasures. 

It is the Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE) of Mexico that wants to import gas from Texas for domestic consumption while Pemex develops the infrastructure it needs to take advantage of natural resources in Mexico. One of the pipelines, the Trans Pecos Pipeline, is the one that is planned to run through the Big Bend region. A Mother Jones story, The Pipeline That Texans Are Freaking Out Over (Nope, Not Keystone), outlines the anger of people in Presidio County, Texas.

Click on image to enlarge.
Except for a very few people, almost nobody in El Paso County knows about the sister pipeline of Trans Pecos - the Comanche Trail Pipeline. It will go from Waha through Culberson and Hudspeth Counties and then cross into El Paso County and cross underneath the Rio Grande at San Elizario. Read the Hudspeth County Herald's story from earlier this spring: Survey Work Begins for New Natural Gas Pipeline Through Hudspeth County.

Beyond an obligatory newspaper post about the project (you know - the fine print in the classifieds that almost no one reads), there has been little mention of nor furor over the proposed pipeline. The environmental and cultural (archaeological, tribal, etc.) impacts have been largely glossed over. Concern for a possible contamination of our Hueco Bolson and the Rio Grande have gone without comment. What's worst of all is the potential of a gas line explosion at San Elizario. If that happens, bye, bye people of San Eli.

Both pipelines have been railroaded by the State agency which regulates them: the Texas Railroad Commission. However, to cross the border requires a Presidential Permit which triggers more rigorous reviews of the project. The Comanche Trail Pipeline people refer to their pipeline as "intrastate" and neglect to tell anyone about this one small detail - it becomes interstate when it crosses over into Chihuahua, Mexico. The Big Bend Conservation Alliance realizes this fact and are making a good argument that the companies behind the Trans Pecos are "segmenting" on purpose. They don't want the stricter federal guidelines, they want the complicity of the Texas Railroad Commission.

The same argument can be made about the Comanche Trail Pipeline. 

Time is of the essence. Comments or interventions by stakeholders (the Audubon Society, local tribes, the County of El Paso for example) must be submitted by 3 PM this coming Monday, July 6. To efile a comment, you can go to and follow the directions. You probably should read the Comanche Trail Pipeline, LLC; Notice of Application first.

One does wonder what will happen to the natural gas going to Mexico once Pemex is able to exploit its own resources. The 42 inch pipelines have a capacity of up to 1.1 billion cubic feet per day. (CFE estimates that 1,475 million cubic feet per day will pass through the Comanche Trail Pipeline and that 1,350 million cubic feet per day will pass through the Trans Pecos Pipleline.) So where will the excess go, if indeed there is an excess? And will it all stop once Pemex is ready. Frankly, I find that the conjecture in the Big Bend Conservation Alliance blog quite possible if not probable.

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