Protesters gather where the Trans-Pecos Pipeline is being built near Alpine’s “Sunny Glen” neighborhood. (Travis Bubenik/KRTS)
West Texas activists are continuing their face-off against Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the Trans-Pecos Pipeline.
Now, they’re joining a broader Native American-led movement protesting the same company.
At least 100 people from the Big Bend region and across Texas gathered in Alpine on Friday for a march against the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, a protest also billed as a “solidarity march” with Native Americans opposing the Dakota Access oil pipeline in North Dakota.
Members of the American Indian Movement of Central Texas helped lead the march from downtown Alpine to an equipment site for the West Texas pipeline, and later to where the pipeline’s actually going in the ground near the Sunny Glen neighborhood off FM 1703.
With Brewster County sheriff’s deputies escorting them along the way, protesters waved signs and chanted slogans criticizing the pipeline and the extraction of fossil fuels in general.
“No more coal, no more oil, keep your carbon in the soil,” protesters chanted, some wearing shirts emblazoned with the “Water is Life” slogan that’s become a rallying cry for people joining the cause of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota.
Though the Trans-Pecos line is a natural gas project, local opponents have increasingly sought to tie their struggle to the much more high-profile protests in North Dakota.
Trey Gerfers is the board president of the Big Bend Conservation Alliance, a local opposition group. He said the BBCA has been motivated by legal challenges Native Americans are waging against that North Dakota project, especially after the Obama Administration recently halted construction on part of that pipeline.
“The Army Corps of Engineer permits that were granted – a very similar one of which was granted for the Trans-Pecos Pipeline – that permit is gonna be questioned under all the litigation that’s happening around the Dakota Access Pipeline,” he said. “So we’re following that very closely to see how we can apply that to our case.”
Much of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline’s already been trucked in, unloaded along the route, and is currently waiting to be put together. You can see it for miles as you travel the highways from Alpine to the border city of Presidio – the 42-inch green pipe cutting across wide-open ranches.
— Travis Bubenik (@traviswesttx) September 14, 2016
Opponents acknowledge at this point, they don’t expect to stop the pipeline altogether.
But Gerfers said they’re optimistic about one local landowner’s federal lawsuit against the company. That suit claims Energy Transfer’s use of eminent domain – using land for the project against the landowner’s will – is unconstitutional.
A win in that case would be huge for opponents, and would mark a sizeable shift in the almost free reign pipeline builders have in Texas.
But it’s a long shot: a federal judge has already dismissed the case, although the landowner has appealed.
While activists continue to push their message that this pipeline is an unwelcome – and potentially hazardous – expansion of industry into this corner of Texas – not everyone’s up for the fight.
Alpine resident Sue Simmons, watching Friday’s march from her car, said there’s “no point” in protesting anymore.
“I think it’s unfortunate that it went through, but you know, I don’t think there’s anything we can do about it,” she said, adding that she feels sorry for the people whose land the pipeline is now crossing.
“I agree that they should’ve had a say, but what can you do?”
The partnering of West Texas and Native American activists across Texas and in North Dakota is in some ways a strategic move meant to get concerns about the Trans-Pecos Pipeline in front of a larger audience.
But local activist Alyce Santoro said it’s bigger than that, and that for her, these fights against different industry projects in different states really are one cause.
“I’m against the pipeline here, and everywhere,” she said.
“I don’t just not want it in the Big Bend, I want us to switch to renewables. I want no more fossil fuels to come out of the ground, because I truly believe that we’re at a tipping point on this planet.”
Santoro’s also among those that don’t actually believe they’ll stop this project, though they hold out a distant hope that they could, if only the right person heard their pleas – that person being the billionaire head of Energy Transfer.
“There’s a part of us all that hopes that if we could just appeal to Kelcy Warren enough, and help him to understand that this is just wrong, that somehow this man would see that this is just plain wrong and would try to stop it,” Santoro said.
Of course, with so much money already pumped into this project, that’s not likely to happen. Especially after Warren himself said his company will push forward with that other pipeline in North Dakota, saying protests there had led to “misinformation,” and that concerns about that project’s effect on local water sources were “unfounded.”