ALPINE — On the outskirts of town, motorists encounter large orange signs reading “pipeline construction ahead.” By the roadside, crews using heavy equipment move enormous sections of pale green pipe on freshly cleared rights of way.
This would be an unremarkable scene elsewhere in a state with 440,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines. But in the remote and unspoiled Big Bend, many residents find the activity offensive.
“It’s sad. It’s a constant reminder every time we drive by. We feel like we’ve been invaded,” said Chris Sweeney, 60, of Sunny Glen, just west of Alpine and a supporter of Defend Big Bend, formed last year to oppose the Trans-Pecos Pipeline.
The 148-mile pipeline will carry natural gas from the Permian Basin to Presidio, where it will cross the Rio Grande. If all goes well, the $767 million project will deliver 1.4 billion cubic feet of gas a day to Mexico by March.
Because the huge 42-inch pipeline crosses under the only road to Sunny Glen, Sweeney and other residents fear being trapped if an explosion ignites a brush fire during the dry season.
Others, however, see pure economic opportunity in the project.
Brad Obbink, 56, who is rushing to expand his small mobile home park south of Alpine, says demand by pipeliners for RV slots is high.
“It’s the greatest thing in the world. They just ask if you have a slot. We don’t advertise, but I could rent out 100 tomorrow if I had them,” he said.
Construction of the line comes after 15 months of dogged protest, organized resistance, hundreds of letters sent to a federal agency and litigation. But Texas law gives energy companies the right to condemn private land for such projects, which made the pipeline almost unstoppable.
When the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this spring declined to assert jurisdiction over the entire 148-mile line — instead of just the short border crossing portion — the battle was essentially lost.