Friday, September 23, 2016

Pay Attention: What's Happening in North Dakota is Happening Just South of El Paso

Presidio Chapel of San Elizario erected in 1877 on site of older Mexican mission. Photo by Jsweida

A little more than a 30 minute drive, just over 21 miles south of downtown El Paso is the City of San Elizario, Texas, a part of the historic mission trail. Its web site proudly claims that it was established in 1598 and incorporated in 2013. It was also ground zero of the Salt War of 1877-78 which didn't end up well for the people and common land but resulted in a land grab for "private property" advocates.

Comanche Pipeline Route from Waha to San Elizario

Today it is ground zero of yet another struggle - one that they have already lost. "The knife is halfway through the heart," is Mayor Maya Sanchez's metaphor. Both the pipeline through Big Bend and San Elizario to Mexico are being built by Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas, the exact same company that is building the Dakota Access Pipeline which is currently getting most of the press attention. The Trans-Pecos Pipeline is also getting some press due to the fact that resistance to it is well organized by the Big Bend Conservation Alliance. (See also No Trans-Pecos Pipeline on Facebook.) There have been no organized efforts to oppose the "Comanche" Pipeline through San Elizario.

Photo: El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1
San Elizario has barely received any attention especially from local El Paso activists who have concentrated on solidarity with Native Americans in North Dakota. However, the recent El Paso Times story about a canal collapse caused by pipeline construction has resulted in more calls to Mayor Sanchez. That collapse happened in Fabens, Texas just outside of San Elizario. 

Archeologist David Keller witnesses the destruction of ancient indian site Trap Springs in the Big Bend region of Texas. Photo by Jessica Lutz. From Censored News.

A canal collapse while boring a hole under the canal for the pipeline should be a wakeup call. The fact is that there are numerous gas and oil pipeline leaks, explosions and spills each year. Not only are lives and property endangered but so are water tables and aquifers. And, in the case of North Dakota and Big Bend, sacred Native American burial grounds and spiritual places are being desecrated.

So, if this battle is lost, what next. Mayor Sanchez is looking farther down the road. "My heart is broken," she says, "but we can focus on policy reform and what we can get to benefit the community." She wants Energy Transfer Partners to keep their word and provide more emergency equipment for San Elizario and build new libraries and parks. Beyond that, Sanchez argues for some key policy reforms:

  • Change the ways that energy companies are given permits.
  • Sunset or reform the Texas Railroad Commission which has never denied a permit to an energy company.
  • Do environmental studies. (None were done for the San Elizario or Big Bend projects.
  • Make new rules about negotiations with landowners. They will be paid a one-time pittance for right-of-way (ceased by eminent domain). Instead they should be compensated for the lifetime of the pipeline.
  • Stop desecrating sacred grounds.

Let's hope that there is a new Salt War - one that turns out better for the people and not the rich and privileged corporations.


  1. Marshall Carter-TrippSeptember 23, 2016 at 4:01 PM

    The fundamental issue is the determination of the fossil fuel industry to pursue the profits from this business to the last drop, and the apparent willingness of the administration to allow it, under the "all of the above" energy choices policy. IT IS TIME TO STOP. Anyone who has children/grandchildren should be deeply concerned about what is coming as the planet heats up. We need a "Manhattan Project" that would make developing sustainable energy sources as important as building the bomb was, energy resources that do not involve massive pipelines and wrecked Native American sacred sites!

  2. Thank you for shining light on this. Now, who will take up this cause?

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