Sunday, December 6, 2015

Demand that ETP and its Contractors be Held Accountable for Cuero Explosion

Image from Victoria Advocate:

According to an article in today's Victoria Advocate, The Texas Railroad Commission will not fine ETP for the June explosion of their faulty 42" pipeline in Cuero, TX.

"The explosion occurred about 8 p.m. June 14 and shot flames hundreds of feet into the air. The fire could be seen from 50 miles away. The heat from the flames melted electric lines, cutting off power to 130 homes. Sixteen people were evacuated from homes near the explosion, according to the report.
No one was injured in the incident, which caused $500,000 in damage."

Please write or call the following agencies to demand accountability for the operators of the pipeline and the contractor responsible for its installation:

Railroad Commission of Texas:

Pipeline Safety:
    • Main line 512/463-7058
    • Email:

Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration:

Office of Pipeline Safety - Southwest Region Office
8701 South Gessner, Suite 1110
Houston, TX 77074
Telephone: 713-272-2859
Fax: 713-272-2831
Regional Director: Rod Seeley
CATS Manager: Bill Lowry
Direct: Phone: (713) 272-2845

Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE
East Building, Second Floor (PH)
Washington D.C. 20590-0001
Administrator: Cynthia L. Quarterman
Media Contact - Deputy Director, Office of Governmental, International and Public Affairs: Patricia Klinger
Associate Administrator for Pipeline Safety: Jeff Wiese
Phone: 202-366-4595

The operating company is Energy Transfer Company, RCT Operator number 32099.  The 42” REM pipeline is covered under State operating permit (T4) 08278.  The incident report and inspection package number is 111385, issued by the investigating agency, the Railroad Commission of Texas.

Sample letter:

John Q. Public
1234 Avenue A
AnyTown, TX 77027

Office of Pipeline Safety - Southwest Region Office
8701 South Gessner, Suite 1110
Houston, TX 77074
CATS Manager: Bill Lowry

Good day Mr. Lowry;

I am writing in regard to a concern, raised by a recently concluded pipeline incident investigation, conducted by the Railroad Commission of Texas, related to the rupture, explosion, and fire associated with the 42” Rich Eagle Ford Mainline (REM) system operated by Energy Transfer Company. The incident occurred on June 14, 2015, near the town of Cuero, Texas. Railroad Commission of Texas (“RCT”), in its Pipeline Safety Evaluation, and Inspection Package, number 111385, published on November 2, 2015 concluded that material failure, as a result of bending stress, led to the rupture, explosion, and fire.

RCT's inspection package fails to state in a clear manner the root cause of the bending stress – improper installation by the contractor that constructed the pipeline. RCT failed to fine, or otherwise cite either the pipeline operating company, Energy Transfer Company, or the installation and construction contractor, Pumpco, Inc. In studying the RCT's inspection package, the root cause of the failure leading to the rupture, explosion, and fire of the 42” REM system was a bending radius in excess of the minimum. This in turn led to the failure of the material at the weld in this segment of pipe. This is clearly a failure on the part of the construction contractor – RCT's inspection package misleads the public, citing “material failure”, rather than stating the root cause, improper installation by the construction contractor.

Energy Transfer Partners, the parent of Energy Transfer Company, the pipeline operator, is also the parent of Mas-Tec, Inc., who in turn is the parent company of PumpCo, Inc., the construction contractor. Energy Transfer Partners, under variousoperating company entities, operates thousands of miles of pipeline systems, significant portions of which were installed by PumpCo or Mas-Tec associated contractors, sub-contractors, and related entities. The rupture, explosion, and fire associated with the 42” REM system, and the inadequate investigation, of the RCT in this event calls into question not only the public safety issues, but the integrity of the regulatory, safety oversight, and enforcement of pipeline systems under the jurisdiction of the RCT.

A copy of the RCT's inspection package, number 111385 is attached for reference. The operating company, Energy Transfer Company, Texas Operator ID 32099, and the 42” REM system, under RCT's T-4 permit 08278 are the identifiers of record associated with the system.

Your agency's attention to this matter would be appreciated. Without oversight, the RCT's lax procedures place the public in great peril.

Thanks and regards,
John Q. Public


Here is an image, composited from the Railroad Commission of Texas GIS system, and Google Earth Pro - it overlays the site of the 42” REM pipeline rupture to show the relationship between the explosion site, and the nearby home, and the small, historic community of Lindenau, home to the Lindenau School, and Lindenau Hall. The community has a population of about 50 residents.

It is about five miles northwest of Cuero. The rupture and explosion on the 42”
REM pipeline melted the road, cut off power to the community, and exposed the area residents to the products of combustion from a “rich” wet gas stream, with a hydrogen sulfide (H2S) concentration at 19ppm (based on RCT T4 permit 08278 data, p. 68). H2S was used as a chemical weapon during World War I, and has the following toxicity effects at the indicated concentrations:

• 0.00047 ppm or 0.47 ppb is the odor threshold, the point at which 50% of a human panel can detect the presence of an odor without being able to identify it.
• 10 ppm is the OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL) (8 hour time-weighted average).
• 10–20 ppm is the borderline concentration for eye irritation.
• 20 ppm is the acceptable ceiling concentration established by OSHA.
• 50 ppm is the acceptable maximum peak above the ceiling concentration for an 8-hour shift, with a maximum duration of 10 minutes.
• 50–100 ppm leads to eye damage.
• At 100–150 ppm the olfactory nerve is paralyzed after a few inhalations, and the sense of smell disappears, often together with awareness of danger.
• 320–530 ppm leads to pulmonary edema with the possibility of death.
• 530–1000 ppm causes strong stimulation of the central nervous system and rapid breathing, leading to loss of breathing.
• 800 ppm is the lethal concentration for 50% of humans for 5 minutes exposure (LC50).
• Concentrations over 1000 ppm cause immediate collapse with loss of breathing, even after inhalation of a single breath.

We don’t really know the H2S concentration in the gas stream, other than what is reported on the RCT form T4… This system, based on its location in a rural area, is designated as a Class I, which uses the minimum mechanical strength pipeline for the maximum operating pressure of 1300PSIG - identical to that planned for use in Alpine, and throughout the entire length of the proposed Trans-Pecos Pipeline. While the proposed Trans-Pecos Pipeline won’t carry “sour” gas with H2S in the stream, it will be subject to exactly the same problems as the 42” REM system near Cuero. The same contractor that installed the 42” REM system is also the installation contractor for the proposed Trans-Pecos Pipeline...

Friday, December 4, 2015

Community Meetings: Easements & Eminent Domain

The Big Bend Conservation Alliance (BBCA) will be offering area landowners a special workshop on Easement Agreements & Eminent Domain Condemnation to inform landowners of their rights and issues surrounding easement negotiations.

The workshops will be led by BBCA research specialist Coyne Gibson.

12/07 (Monday) – Alpine Public Library 6 - 7:30 p.m.

12/15 (Tuesday) – Alpine Public Library 6 - 7:30 p.m.

12/17 (Thursday) – Marfa Public Library 6 - 7:30 p.m.

The workshops will consist of a one-hour presentation on pipeline easements including an example of standard easement agreements, red-flag issues for landowners, and the process of eminent domain condemnation in Texas. The presentation will be followed by a question and answer session.

The workshops are free and open to the public.


Eminent Domain Condemnation in Texas - Facts for Landowners

Easement Agreements - Facts to Consider for Property Owners - Part I

The Economics of Compensation Offers for Pipeline Easements in Texas - Part II

Elements of a Typical Easement Agreement - Part III


Monday, November 23, 2015

New FERC Comments Needed by March 2016: Preliminary Information

Thank you, Coyne Gibson, for an extremely informative presentation this evening!


On or around Jan 4, 2015 FERC will publish the results of their EA, specifically addressing the 615 individual public comments and 4 motions to intervene.
We can expect one of the following three outcomes:

1. Worst case scenario: a finding of "no significant impact" (FONSI), meaning the Big Bend is in fact a wasteland that requires no further study in order for the pipeline project to proceed.
2. Medium case scenario: the EA will refer only to the "jurisdictional" facility (the 1093' of pipe as it crosses the border).
3. Best case scenario: An EIS (full-blown Environmental Impact Study) could be required for only the jurisdictional facility OR – super best case – for the entire 143 mile route.

Between now and March, as many of us as possible will need to file comments with the FERC specifically addressing the notion of IMPERMISSIBLE SEGMENTATION.* We will be posting a template/tutorial with more info soon. Meanwhile, a few points to ponder:

1. In the case of the proposed Trans-Pecos Pipeline we will need to impress upon the FERC that the 1093-foot border crossing (the claimed jurisdictional facility) does not function in isolation, and in fact has ZERO value without the connected "intrastate" (this classification is wholly inaccurate...more on this in a moment...) pipelines on the Texas side of the border/connections to Mexico's new and existing pipeline infrastructure south of the border. The consortium that proposed these pipelines – and our government, via the FERC – would like for us to believe that the 1093-foot segment of pipe has "full utility in isolation", and that the remaining connected pipelines are of no significance.

2. RE: the "intrastate" classification: the gas that comes into the Waha Hub near Coyanosa arrives from OTHER STATES such as Oklahoma and Louisiana where it commingles with gas derived in Texas. There is no way to distinguish a molecule of gas from one state vs. that of another. See also a diagram contained in CFE's (Mexico's power company's) original request for proposals page 13 (image extracted from this document is attached as a jpg...those "10 initial interconnects" are pipes connecting with the line, presumably bringing in gas from other states).

3. This system of new pipelines of which the Trans Pecos is one would export 34 billion standard cubic feet of gas per day to Mexico. If all of the new power plants associated with this project were up and running (see map) and in operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (not typically the way power plants work), they would only be able to burn about 1/10 of this volume of gas.

4. We need to request that FERC comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. As part of this, they MUST consider alternatives. Among the alternatives we need to strongly urge them to consider: a "NO ACTION DECISION" other words, this pipeline should not be built at all. Among points indicating that this is the best course of action: that the US is bearing the brunt of the environmental costs of extracting the gas through hydraulic fracturing (including depletion and contamination of groundwater supplies, air pollution, etc), that we currently flare off about 12% of all gas extracted, that Mexico has it's own resources, that the US is currently a net importer of gas, and that gas exports would drive up the domestic price of energy.

Another alternative: TAKE A DIFFERENT ROUTE. See Coyne's gorgeously presented case to the FERC in its entirety here. Map extracted from this document is attached.

More soon!

* "The pipeline boom has many in the environmental community on alert against a perennial bugbear NEPA veterans know well. In any infrastructural “system” built and maintained piecemeal, doubts and questions will necessarily arise over the measurable or practical units under “consideration” or construction at any one time."

Thursday, October 22, 2015


Creatures & Features of the Big Bend Benefit Exhibition 
at the Galeria Sibley during ARTWALK weekend
November 20-21, 2015

Call for framed, hangable, or otherwise display-ready 2- and 3-dimensional art on the theme of our local landscape and its inhabitants. A portion of all sales will go to the artist's choice of one of three organizations: the Big Bend Conservation Alliance legal defense fund, the Big Bend Sierra Club legal defense fund, or Defend Big Bend. Artist receives 70% of sales and the organization receives 30%...the gallery will not take a cut.

Deliver works to the gallery November  16 - 18 from 9am 'til at noon (or contact Liz to arrange another time

Opening reception November 20 at 6pm.
MORE INFO: Liz Sibley

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Brewster County Groundwater Conservation District: ENFORCE THE RULES

Dear All,

Help is needed in pressuring the Brewster County Groundwater Conservation District to enforce its own rules: in spite of the fact that Pumpco has not been granted a commercial permit, they continue to pump unknown amounts of water from the "residential" well on their site.

Please direct letters as soon as possible to BCGCD District Manager Conrad Arriola...address and template below.

Letters need to arrive before the next BCGCD meeting one week from today, October 8th at 9am. In addition, we need to attend this meeting en masse. Pumpco as well as several individuals will be applying for pipeline-related commercial use permits. It is critical that our voices are heard. The board is currently split about down the middle on the issue.

Thank you for your help!


Mr. Conrad Arriola
District Manager
Brewster County Groundwater Conservation District
PO Box 465
Alpine, TX 79831

Dear Mr. Arriola:

This letter is a request that the Brewster County Groundwater Conservation District (BCGWD) enforce its own rules with respect to the well at the Pumpco site off F.M. 1703. Although Pumpco has applied for a commercial use permit on two different occasions, it has not been granted.

According to BCGWD, “As of Jan 1, 2006, Brewster County Groundwater Conservation District will require registration and operating permits for all non-exempt wells, defined as wells capable of producing more than 25,000 gallons per day, or 17.36 gallons per minute.”
Pumpco employees have been observed using unknown amounts of water from this well, and, as such, are in clear violation.

I respectfully request that the BCGWCD uphold and enforce its own rules by providing notice to Pumpco to cease further use of this well and to apply any associated fines. In light of their blatant disregard for BCGWCD rules and for the potential effects of their extraction upon neighboring wells, I further request that any pending permits for this well be denied until Pumpco demonstrates respect for BCGWCD rules and the groundwater under its jurisdiction.



Thursday, September 17, 2015

An “Appropriate Technology”: Sun-Roasted Chilies for Presidio?

Chilies roasted by the sun!

A corporation is looking to construct a gas-fired chili roasting plant near Presidio that would create up to 40 seasonal $10-$15/hour jobs. This operation would depend entirely on gas that would ostensibly be derived from the proposed 42" high pressure Trans Pecos Pipeline...this is like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Why not utilize a free, carbon neutral, unlimited resource that already exists in the Big Bend in great abundance: SUNLIGHT? 

The following article was published Thursday September 17 in the print editions of the Alpine Avalanche, Big Bend Sentinel, and the International Edition of Big Bend Now:

“Appropriate Technology” is a concept that stemmed from E. F. Schumacher’s 1973 book Small is Beautiful:Economics as if People Mattered. Appropriate technology is based on the idea that unique, sustainable, community-oriented solutions tailored to the needs and assets of a particular region and its population may offer practical and financially- and socially-rewarding alternatives to large-scale, natural resource-intensive, centralized industrialization.

I have been a resident of Fort Davis and Alpine for 9 years.  For 7 of those years I have been cooking nearly every day in a solar oven.  Solar ovens are remarkable – they require no wood, charcoal, gas, or electricity of any kind – just concentrated heat from the sun – a source that is abundant and free here in the Big Bend! These ovens can reach 350 – 400 degrees F within 20 minutes on a day with minimal cloud cover. They remain at this temperature from not long after sunrise until just before sunset.

Since I first heard the rumor that Presidio was interested in inviting a chili roasting operation to town, I have been wondering what it would take to develop this “appropriate technology” on an industrial scale.

Upon a cursory search, I discovered that commercially-successful solar cookery operations are already up-and-running in arid regions around the world.

One endeavor that I found particularly striking is the Delicias del Sol restaurant in Villeseca, Chile:

Solar restaurant in Chile has produced profits - The Delicias del Sol restaurant, known for serving excellent food, has become a tourist destination for the village of Villaseca, Chile. Begun in 2000 with an initial seating capacity of sixteen, the solar restaurant now seats 120. The dry central valley area receives over 300 days of sunshine a year, and like similar areas, traditional fuel sources are becoming ever more scarce and expensive. The tourists enjoy viewing the solar kitchen at work.”

Based on my experience and research, I feel extremely confident that a Solar Fired Chili Roasting Factory could become a scalable, sustainable business that would have the potential to grow and prosper in Presidio for many years to come. Such a project could even become a model for other similar ventures around the country and the world, bringing tourists to our area to visit it, sample the chilies, and participate in annual celebrations of Presidio’s innovation!

A few specifics:

Currently, the Villager Sun Oven (made by the same company that makes the small-scale home models that I use daily) is the industry standard for large-scale cookery.

“The VILLAGER SUN OVEN® is designed for large-scale feeding situations that require cooking great volumes of food quickly. Even though it is called an oven, enormous quantities of food can be boiled, steamed or baked at cooking temperatures of 500° F / 260° C with no fuel costs. The world has entered an era of increasingly higher energy costs. These costs are often viewed from an economic perspective, but the toll they take in human and environmental terms, while difficult to measure and often overlooked, are even more devastating. Feeding programs are often forced to choose between buying food or the fuel to cook it. VILLAGER SUN OVENS® were developed to help feed large groups of people without destabilizing the environment or contributing to deforestation.
 Each VILLAGER SUN OVEN®, when utilized as a Sun Bakery, can save over 150 tons of wood annually which results in the reduction of 277 tons of CO2 green house gas emissions annually. Preserving forests and reducing the stain on the world’s environment. UNIQUE BUT HIGHLY EFFECTIVE The VILLAGER SUN OVEN® is the only manufactured commercial solar oven in the world. Over 1,200 meals a day can be cooked or hundreds of loaves of bread can be baked powered by the sun. Ovens are growing in popularity and are currently used in more than 40 deforested counties in a variety of applications.”

While funds could be raised to purchase a Villager Oven (at a cost of $13,000 per oven), similar ovens could likely be manufactured locally. It is even possible that once the plans are fully worked out, the ready-made ovens could be sold to other communities throughout the southwest.

Practically from the moment the oven is ready for use, it can begin to generate income. More research will be needed to determine the amount of chilies per day that can be roasted, and how they would be preserved (a canning process using glass jars may be recommended – the entire canning process can be carried out using the sun oven itself – this way, no freezer or additional power source need be used).

The chilies could be sold immediately to local restaurants, grocery stores, at farmers’ markets, and to locals and tourists as a very specially locally-produced item at an on-site stand.

When chilies are not in season (or even when they are…), other products could be produced (cornbread, sundried Fort Davis tomatoes, canned beans or bean stews, etc). The potential of the sun oven is limitless!

Ideally, this enterprise would be developed and implemented from start to finish by residents of Presidio. I am available to help brainstorm, provide additional info, or answer any questions.

Friday, September 11, 2015


Photo by Coyne Gibson

While we are waiting on FERC's decision with regard to the open scoping period, there are many ways to help keep the momentum going:

Right now one of our main concerns is simply raising awareness and building community for whatever comes next. We currently have James Parker in the area, a filmmaker from LA who will be creating a documentary about our situation. This documentary has the potential to bring our story to a MUCH wider audience than would otherwise be possible...this will be extremely important not only in fundraising for the legal effort, but also if and when direct action/civil disobedience becomes necessary. Upshot: we need to continue to find ways to get the word to larger outlets and audiences. 

In addition to seeking attention from national media, part of this effort must include writing letters to the editor of the local newspapers. We should never let a week go by when there are no letters pertaining to the pipeline in the papers. 

For example, right now, an important question that could be asked is, with regard to this alleged chili factory project 12 miles from Presidio, IF the pipeline goes through, WHO WILL PAY for the infrastructure required, and WHAT GAS FRANCHISE has agreed to sell the gas (ETP is not a retail gas company...)...and at WHAT PRICE to the consumer?

There are also campaigns to donate to and petitions to be signed!

Current petitions:


If anyone feels a sense of urgency around any activities we can or should be working on together, please add your thoughts in the comments below, or on facebook!!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Historian Lonn Taylor's comment to the FERC on the Historical Significance of the Marfa Army Airfield

Photo from

Members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
Chairman and Commissioners
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20426

Dear Members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission:

This comment is in regard to the open scoping related to the Environmental Assessment
for FERC Docket CP 15-500, the proposed Trans-Pecos Pipeline.

In consideration of FERC’s request for public comment related to environmental and cultural impacts, I respectfully submit this comment regarding the pipeline’s impact on an endangered historic site along the non-jurisdictional portion of the proposed pipeline route: the Marfa Army Air Field.

Lonn Taylor


By way of introduction and to demonstrate my authority on this subject I offer a brief review of my credentials. I am a historian and retired museum professional who lives in Fort Davis, Texas. From 1984 until my retirement in 2002 I served as Historian at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. I hold a B.A. degree in history and government from Texas Christian University and have conducted historical research for 47 years. I am the author of 8 books and numerous scholarly articles and for the past 10 years have written a weekly column on
Texas history for the Marfa Big Bend Sentinel. 

The Marfa Army Airfield: An Endangered Historic Site

The site of one of Texas’s most significant World War II Army air fields is located directly in the pathway of the proposed Trans-Pecos pipeline and will undoubtedly be adversely affected by the construction of the pipeline, resulting in the loss of an important historic resource.

In March 1942 the War Department selected the 2,750-acre site of the Marfa Army Air Field, due south of the present Marfa Lights Viewing Area, for its proximity to both U.S. Highway 90 and the Southern Pacific Railroad. The field’s planned use was for the advanced training of Army Air Corps twin-engine pilots. The land was purchased jointly by the cities of Marfa and Alpine from T.G. Hendrick of Abilene for $17,850 and then leased to the War Department for 25 years for $1.00 a year. McGough Brothers of Houston started construction of 6 asphalt runways with supplementary taxiways and 20150903-5088 FERC PDF (Unofficial) 9/3/2015 11:48:01 AM ramps and 250 buildings including barracks, mess halls, hangars, and a control tower, chapel, theatre, and officers club in June 1942. Enough buildings were completed that the first class of 300 cadets was able to start training in December 1942. Eventually a 172-unit housing area for married civilian employees, called Marpine, was added to the field. By April 1944 the Marfa Army Air Field had a complement of 575 officers, 2,144 enlisted men, and 604 civilian employees, plus about 1,000 cadets in training. The hangars housed 500 airplanes, including Cessna AT-17B and Beech AT-11 trainers and B-25 light bombers.

A total of about 8,000 men went through the Marfa Advanced Flying School at the field, with one class graduating each month between February 1943 and May 1945. The graduation ceremonies were gala events, attended by citizens of Marfa and featuring a parade, a military band, aerial demonstrations, tours of the field, and an evening dance at the officers club. Beginning in the fall of 1944 the graduating cadets included eight groups of Chinese Air Force pilots who were being trained to fly the B-25s that the U.S. government had provided Chaing Kai-Shek through the lend-lease program. The Marfa Army Air Field was one of the few flying fields in the United States where Chinese Air Force pilots were trained.

When it was established the Marfa Army Air Field was part of the Army Air Forces Flying Training Command. In June, 1944, the field became part of the Second Air Force, which inherited responsibilty for all Army Air Force pilot training from the Flying Training Command. . In June 1945 all training functions ceased and the field became a redeployment center for the I Troop Carrier Command, which was responsible for delivering airborne troops to battlefields in the Pacific.

The base was closed and declared surplus by the military in October 1946, and many of its military buildings were moved to Alpine and Marfa, but it continued to operate as the Marfa-Alpine municipal airport, serving Trans-Texas Airlines daily flights to and from the Big Bend from 1948 to 1960 and those of a smaller feeder airline, Solar Airlines of Roswell, New Mexico, in 1964 and 1965. In the 1960s the airport became a well-known site for soaring enthusiasts due to the thermals produced by the peculiar convergence of moist and dry air around Marfa and was the site of national soaring contests in 1967 and 1969. In June and July 1970 the airport hosted the 14-day Twelfth World Soaring Contest, the first such contest ever held in the United States, at which 80 pilots from 26 countries competed for the world soaring championship. The airport was permanently closed after that meet and was replaced by the present Marfa Municipal Airport on State Highway 17.

The Marfa Army Air Field had a tremendous impact on Marfa during World War II, causing the town’s population to double. Marfa citizens took the cadets and base personnel into their homes; Marfa girls attended the weekly officers’ club and U.S.O. dances and many marriages resulted. The base held open houses for Marfa residents and Marfans attended performances at the base theater, including shows given by ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and tenor Mario Lanza. The base’s color guard and band participated in parades in Marfa and at one point the base even held a beauty contest to select a young woman from Marfa to represent the base at the El Paso Sun Bowl. When the base was officially closed in October 1946 the people of Marfa held a series of goingaway parties and barbecues for the departing personnel. It continued to play a significant role in the history of the town and the Big Bend after its abandonment by the military, providing the first and only commercial air service in the entire region for twelve years and bringing glider pilots and their crews from all over the world to Marfa throughout the 1960s, culminating in the world soaring championship contest in 1970. It is one of the region’s most significant historic sites.

Today there are no surviving structures at the site, although the pattern of runways and streets is clearly visible from the air. The site, which is identified by an official Texas Historical Commission historic marker on U.S. Highway 90, is now private property and no archaeological investigations have ever been carried out there. The construction of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline could do irreparable damage to this invaluable but unexplored historic site. 

For these reasons I urge the Commission to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement that would include proper archaeological and historical documentation of this historic property. In addition, I further urge the Commission to examine all other possible alternate routes for the pipeline. Ideally, the Commission will ultimately determine that such a project introduces too many complications because of the array of natural and cultural resources that would be impacted and that a
determination of No-Action is most appropriate.


Anthony, Allen. Little Airlines in the Big Bend. Fort Davis: River Microstudies, 1999.
Coffield, India, “Behind the Scenes at the World Soaring Championship,” Big Bend
Sentinel, June 25, 1970.
Kahl, Georgia Lee. Interview with Lonn Taylor, 8/23/15.
“Marfa Army Air Field,” Wikipedia,, accessed 8/22/15.
Taylor, Lonn. “Memories, Then and Now, of Marfa Army Air Field,” Big Bend Sentinel,
March 17, 2011.
Document Content(s)
MarfaArmy Air Field.DOC...............................................1-7

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

FERC Comment: Cumulative Environmental, Cultural, and Socio-Economic Impacts of the Proposed Trans Pecos Pipeline on the Chihuahuan Desert Region

September 2, 2015

Honorable Norman Bay, and Members of the FERC
Commissioner, Chairman, and Commissioners
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First St., N.E.
Washington, DC, 20426

Dear Chairman Bay and Members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,

Below please find my concerns regarding some of the potential environmental, cultural, and socio-economic impacts of the proposed Trans­Pecos Pipeline project, both jurisdictional and non-jurisdictional facilities, FERC Docket CP15­500.

Thank you for your consideration.


Cumulative Environmental, Cultural, and Socio-Economic Impacts of the Proposed Trans Pecos Pipeline on the Chihuahuan Desert Region

As a biologist, I worked for several years as a research assistant on the GLOBEC (Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics) Project[i], a decade-long study of changing biological and physical factors on George’s Bank (an 11,000 square mile plateau) in the Gulf of Maine. This experience taught me that the health of an ecosystem is dependent on a wide range of interconnected factors, and that the health of one species is dependent on the health of many others; nothing exists in isolation, and everything depends on everything else for survival. While scientists predict that more biodiverse ecosystems will be better able to adapt to change over time, it is difficult or impossible to know which species or factors would be the ones most deserving of preservation or protection.[ii]

While the Chihuahuan Desert is one of the three most biodiverse desert regions on planet Earth, it is also one of the most endangered.[iii] The proposed Trans Pecos Pipeline, both jurisdictional and non-jurisdictional facilities, would be located entirely in the Chihuahan Desert. Of course, this unique bioregion does not stop at the border; the portion of this pipeline that would run south from Ojinaga would also be located in the Chihuahan Desert. The following map is a composite made by overlaying a Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE) map of the pipeline with a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) map[iv] of the Chihuahan Desert:

 According to a World Wildlife Fund report:

“The Chihuahuan desert is one of the three most biologically rich and diverse desert ecoregions in the world, rivaled only by the Great Sandy Tanmi Desert of Australia and the Namib-Karoo of southern Africa (Olson and Dinerstein 1998). Approximately 3,500 plant species live in this desert, and estimates of endemism state that there could be up to 1000 endemic species (29%), and at least 16 endemic plant genera (Toledo 1988). The high degree of local endemism is the result of the isolating effects of complex basin and range physiography, and dynamic changes in climate over the last 10,000 years. Another contributing factor to endemism is the colonization of these inhospitable habitats by specialist species with restricted ranges. Taxa with high level of local endemism include cacti, butterflies, spiders, scorpions, ants, lizards and snakes.“[v]

Recognizing the historical, cultural, and ecological value of preserving this region, in 2010 President Obama and then-President Calderón specified its protection in a Bi-National Agreement they cosigned in 2010:    

“The Presidents noted the long history of bilateral cooperation in the conservation of natural and cultural resources.  They recognized that Big Bend National Park and Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River in the United States and the Protected Areas of Maderas del Carmen, Cañon de Santa Elena, Ocampo, and Río Bravo del Norte in Mexico together comprise one of the largest and most significant ecological complexes in North America.  In doing so, they recognized that increased cooperation in these protected areas would restrict development and enhance security in the region and within this fragile desert ecosystem.  To preserve this region of extraordinary biological diversity, they expressed their support for the United States Department of Interior and the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources of the United Mexican States to work through appropriate national processes to recognize and designate Big Bend – Rio Bravo as a natural area of binational interest.  The Presidents underscored their commitment to manage the region in a way that enhances security and protects these areas for wildlife preservation, ecosystem restoration, climate change adaptation, wildland fire management, and invasive species control.”[vi]

In 2011, a Bi-National Conservation Plan was announced. From the press release:

“When you come to an area as remote and as beautiful as Big Bend, it truly changes your perception of what a border is and what a border can be,” said U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Anthony Wayne. “There is a line - the river in this case - that politically marks the boundaries of our two countries. But for a tourist, for a park ranger, for a conservationist, and for anyone who has visited this spectacular place, one thing is clear: what we share here – the seamless flow of nature across both banks of the river – is far stronger and far more enduring than what divides us.”

Home to 446 species of birds, 3,600 species of insects, more than 1,500 plants, and 75 species of mammals, the Big Bend region of Texas and the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Coahuila provide a unique opportunity for scientists, natural resource managers, and park staff to collaborate in areas that will benefit the people, the landscapes, and the wildlife on both sides of the border.

Following the announcement, the Secretaries and Ambassador participated in a wildlife release on the U.S. side of the border, demonstrating the results of successful coordination efforts in reaching a common conservation goal. Joined by members of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Salazar, Elvira, and Wayne helped with the transport and release of 267,000 Rio Grande Silvery Minnows as part of an ongoing recovery project for the endangered species. Earlier this month, Mexico released fifteen bird species on the Mexican side of the border in Chihuahua. The species included: two Red-tailed Hawks, two Roadside Hawks, two American Kestrels, one Gray Hawk, two Great Horned Owls, three Burrowing Owls, and three Cooper's Hawks.”[vii]

The following is the full text of the Joint Statement on Cooperative Action for Conservation in the Big Bend/Rio Bravo Region (no longer available on the Department of the Interior website)[viii]:

This Cooperative Action initiative resulted in the 2014 “Conservation Assessment for the Big Bend-Rio Bravo Region: A Bi-National Collaborative Approach to Conservation”[ix], a 106-page study with contributions by 23 authors.  

“This large binational area, comprised by a total of eleven protected areas in Texas, Coahuila, and Chihuahua, offers a unique opportunity for conservation because of its isolation from human settlements and the unfragmented nature of its landscape. Connectivity of habitats in these borderlands is essential to maintain and restore biodiversity, particularly in the face of a changing climate.” (p. ix)

Among the 29 Priority Conservation areas listed on p xiv, approximately 60 miles of the proposed Trans Pecos Pipeline would run through at least four of them: Alamito Creek (a Riparian and Aquatic Habitat listed at medium risk), the Alpine and Marfa Grasslands (high risk), and the Rio Grande River Corridor (high risk).

The following image is a composite made from the projected route of the Trans Pecos Pipeline overlaid on the map of Priority Conservation Areas on p 1 of the Conservation Assessment:

Among the Conservation Target Species found in the four Priority Conservation Areas are the Salina mucket, Tampico pearlymussel, Texas hornshell, Woodhouse’s toad, Big Bend rough-footed mud turtle, Merriam’s canyon lizard, Mexican stoneroller, Red shiner, Roundnose minnow, Rio Grande silvery Minnow, Speckled chub, Chihuahua shiner, Rio Grande shiner, Longnose dace, Blue sucker, Mexican redhorse, Conchos pupfish, Rio Grande darter, Desert Massasauga, Ferruginous hawk, Golden eagle, Peregrine falcon, Northern aplomado falcon, Mountain plover, Upland sandpiper, Gambel’s quail, Long-billed curlew, Montezuma quail, Burrowing owl, Loggerhead shrike, Vesper sparrow, Baird’s sparrow, Eastern meadowlark, Kit fox, Kangaroo rat, Pronghorn, Endemic but unlisted cactuses, Native riparian trees, and rare and economically-important wetland plants (species include Brahea berlandieri, lechuguilla, ocotillo, lippia, candellila, Yucca spp., and sotol).

According to ETP’s website, the construction area along the route will be limited to a corridor 125’ wide[x] (this figure does not include access roads or equipment storage and parking areas). The map above indicates that the pipeline route would cross through approximately 60 miles of Priority Conservation Area.

Therefore, construction activity associated with the proposed Trans­Pecos Pipeline Presidio Crossing Project jurisdictional and integral non­jurisdictional facilities will temporarily disrupt or permanently destroy, at minimum, 909 acres of Priority Conservation Area.

Major physical habitat disturbance and noise caused by double-ditch construction methods and horizontal drilling at the jurisdictional and non-jurisdictional facilities will have severe negative impacts on numerous rare, threatened, and endangered plant and mammal species.

It is well documented that compaction of soil caused by old-time wagon wheels, even in less arid regions, created ruts that have persisted for a century.[xi] Reading through FERC’s “Upland Erosion Control, Revegetation, and Maintenance Plan”[xii] the reseeding and soil compaction mitigation techniques appear to be designed for locations with loamier soil conditions and higher rainfall. In order to understand the needs of fragile desert ecosystems, additional specialized research would be required.

On page 30 of Energy Transfer Partners Environmental Report, Presidio Crossing Project by Gremminger and Associates, Inc. (May 2015) it is claimed that:

“Other direct impacts to the soil result from rutting and compaction of the soil surface and immediate subsurface by equipment and vehicles. The degree of this impact will depend largely on the moisture content of the soil. By employing the erosion control and mitigation measures outlined within the FERC’s Plan and Procedures, Trans-Pecos believes that off-ROW sedimentation will be minimized to the greatest extent practical. Surface disturbances will be restricted to desert shrub land and topsoil will be restored to the original location pursuant to the easement agreement. Implementation of the appropriate measures should contain and control any erosion and minimize any runoff sedimentation from the ROW.”

Statements such as Trans Pecos believes the sedimentation will be minimized to the greatest extent practical” and “surface disturbances will be restricted to desert shrub land” strongly suggest that TPP LLC plans to conduct their activities according to subjective judgments, not empirical data. In addition, statements made by Project Manager Rick Smith at ETP’s Open House Meeting in Alpine, TX on July 8, 2015 did not inspire confidence that TPP LLC has a complete, evidence-based understanding of what would be required " vegetate the land back to equal/better than it was before."[xiii]

In order to develop their Environmental Report, a one-day study limited to the half-acre jurisdictional facility was conducted by Gremminger and Associates. According to page 13 of Gremminger’s report “GAI biologists conducted a field assessment of the proposed route on May 6, 2015.” Based on these minimal observations, GAI concluded on page 15 that “The Project will have a short-term negative effect to wildlife use of the lands directly affected by construction of the Project, and on adjacent lands in immediate vicinity to the construction activity…It is GAI’s opinion the Project will have little to no effect to birds of conservation concern.” With all due respect, an opinion based on several hours of observation is not sufficient in a matter requiring thorough research by experts in regional biology.

An archeological survey of the same half-acre jurisdictional facility site was also conducted on the same single day. On page 22 it is stated, “GAI’s archaeological subcontractor, Turpin and Sons, Inc. (TAS) performed a cultural resources assessment of all lands on and immediately adjacent to the proposed work location on May 6, 2015. As a result of this effort no existing or previously unknown cultural resources were discovered.” Again, a one-day assessment cannot be relied upon to yield meaningful data. An in-depth study conducted by local experts in concert with local tribal representatives should be conducted in order to make an authoritative determination.

In the case of the Chihuahan Desert, it is difficult to extract ecological and cultural concerns from socio-economic ones, as the regional economy, strongly based in eco-tourism, ranching, and hunting, depends on preservation of not only the physical environment, but also the strong perception in the public consciousness of this truly unique, remote, and unspoiled place as “The Last Frontier”. The Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park, McDonald Observatory, Chinati Hot Springs, Marfa Mystery Lights, the Chinati Foundation, and the Judd Foundation are among the many local attractions that intrigue and delight visitors from across the state, the country, and the world.

While conflicting, unsubstantiated stories about the potential economic benefits of the Trans Pecos Pipeline have been circulating in local media, the Gremminger report clearly states on page 24 that since “The Project is minimal in nature, size, and construction duration; therefore, the Project would have only a minimal positive affect to the local economy from purchase of consumable supplies from local vendors and merchants, and potential lodging of the workforce for the short duration of the construction activity. The Project will not have a substantial affect, positively or negatively, on the local socioeconomic area…”

This statement does not constitute a compelling cost/benefit analysis. Damage to the fragile desert  ecosystem, losses to our environment-dependent economy in the form of decrease in tourism revenue, decrease in property valuations, increased stress on roadways, first responders, and aquifers are not taken into account. When Project Manager Rick Smith was asked during the Open House in Alpine, TX on July 8 whether a comprehensive cost/benefit analysis had been conducted, he revealed that, “No, we do not factor negatives into our calculations.”

In addition, according to page 5 of Trans Pecos Pipeline LLC’s  FERC “Application for Natural Gas Act Section 3 Authorization and Presidential Permit to Construct Natural Gas Pipeline Facilities at the United States – Mexico Border” the proposed Trans Pecos Pipeline is not intended to serve any domestic or municipal customer. Rather, “The principal use for the natural gas transported though the Presidio Crossing Project facilities will be to fuel natural gas-fired electric generation plants and supply potential industrial customers in northern Mexico.”

This statement, while directly referring to the FERC jurisdictional facility, also indirectly refers to the 143-mile non-jurisdictional facility attached to, and entirely dependent upon, the jurisdictional facility.

In sum: TPP LLC is requesting a Certificate of Public Convenience to route their facilities – both jurisdictional and non-jurisdictional – through four protected Priority Conservation Areas in the third most biologically diverse desert in the world based on Mr. Gremminger and Associates 1-day assessment limited to the half-acre crossing site. In addition, it is unclear what public, if any, is being served by this project.

Based on the Bi-National Agreement, the Joint Statement for Cooperative Action, the Conservation Assessment, and Trans Pecos Pipeline LLC’s dubious claim to service in the “public good”, the Commission should patently deny TPP LLC’s request for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the FERC jurisdictional facility.

Routes that would take the TPP project outside the protected Chihuahuan Desert should be investigated. At minimum, FERC should conduct a complete NEPA compliant Environmental Impact Statement for the project as a whole, including the jurisdictional, and non-jurisdictional facilities, as it is obligated to do under 40 CFR Chapter V, Parts 1500 – 1518.

[xi] “Persistance of Soil Structural Modifications Along a Historic Wagon Trail”