In late March, approximately 50 representatives from Energy Transfer, a Dallas-based energy company, stood smiling in a conference center in this small town, attempting to diffuse tensions with a community that has been largely resistant to a proposed pipeline planned for its backyard.
If completed as scheduled, the 143-mile Trans-Pecos pipeline would transport natural gas from West Texas all the way to the U.S.-Mexico border. On the way, it would pass through the Big Bend region of Texas, a rural area beloved for its natural beauty by tourists and residents. The energy company is hoping landowners will agree to a permanent 50-foot easement along the pipeline’s route so it can serve northern Mexico. It says it will pay the owners a fair market price in return. But while some welcome the promised compensation, a vocal group of ranchers and landowners have vowed to resist the pipeline and its potential use of eminent domain to take over their land — especially because such laws may not even apply to a pipeline that would serve residents of another country.
In the process, they’ve formed an unexpected partnership with a local environmentalist group, the Big Bend Conservation Alliance, or BBCA. While West Texas ranchers and environmentalists have rarely seen eye to eye, mostly because environmental regulations and endangered-species restrictions limit how ranchers can use their properties, they share a respect for the land. “We all agree that the land needs to be regarded a little more highly,” says Joel Nelson, manager of the Anchor cattle ranch, which the pipeline will traverse.
This part of Texas, home to Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park, is a popular tourist destination. “It’s kind of like the state’s backyard,” says David Keller, a BBCA steering committee member. Thanks to its famously dark night skies, the region is also home to the McDonald Observatory, the University of Texas’ astronomical-research facility. One common concern is that pipeline operations would disturb the area’s treasured peace and quiet. “This is the last great place in the state to enjoy quiet and dark skies,” says Florence Cox, whose home is near the pipeline route. “I moved to Alpine to get away from all that — and now they want to bring it here?”