New Pipeline Protest Models Itself On Dakota Access Fight

The target this time is the Trans-Pecos Pipeline in west Texas.
Protesters trying to stop a natural gas pipeline in west Texas were arrested on Jan 7 near Marfa.
Protesters trying to stop a natural gas pipeline in west Texas were arrested on Jan 7 near Marfa.
Greg Harman

A new front has opened in the fight against the developer of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The battleground this time is rural west Texas, where a small, yet intense opposition to building the Trans-Pecos Pipeline has gained force in recent days.

The rugged geography and arid climate around the Texas pipeline is different than the North Dakota landscape where thousands of Native Americans and their allies have camped in the snow and risked arrest to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline. But the protesters are copying the playbook that brought victories to the Standing Rock Sioux and setbacks to developer Energy Transfer Partners.

Many of the protesters in west Texas are also Native American and identify as water protectors or defenders. Small groups have bunkered down at sites like the Two Rivers Camp, near Marfa, and promise an extended resistance through the winter.

“We saw what they did successfully. We’ve learned some of the logistics and tactics,” said 68-year-old Jesse Manciaz, a former Marine and a member of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas. “The perspective from being Indian is that this land is sacred. Many see our land as real estate, but it’s more than that. It’s a living entity that’s being destroyed.”

The 148-mile Trans-Pecos Pipeline, which runs underground, would transport natural gas, extracted by fracking in the state, through the Chihuahuan Desert and canyons of the Big Bend region of the Rio Grande and across the border to Mexico. Opponents fear that en route, the volatile gas could ignite and start a devastating fire.

In one of the first big actions against the pipeline, several dozen people holding signs entered an active construction site this past Saturday and two protesters who had attached themselves to construction equipment were arrested and released.

Mark Glover, one of the two people charged Saturday with trespassing by the Presidio County sheriff’s office, told HuffPost that he hoped his arrest raised the profile of the fight against the Trans-Pecos project.

“Anytime you can bring attention to an unjust corporate move, to a dereliction in our laws that is against the people … that to me is worth the time I spent underneath the bulldozer and in jail,” said Glover, 61, of Alpine, Texas.

Glover complained that the oil and gas industry sits in the driver seat of Texas politics. “The people were put in the back seat. But we don’t want to be in the back seat anymore. We want to be in the front,” he said.

A third pipeline protest led by Native Americans and others is gathering strength in Florida against the 515-mile Sabal Trail project.

The Trans-Pecos Pipeline is about one-eighth the length of the 1,172-mile Dakota Access project, but it may be much harder to stop. The Texas pipeline is 90 percent built, and completion is scheduled for March.

Because this pipeline cuts entirely through private land, government authorities have fewer ways to exercise oversight than they did with the Dakota Access project. The state already used eminent domain to clear land for the Texas pipeline, which has reportedly sparked lawsuits from some property owners.

The Dakota project has been at a standstill since December when the Obama administration declined to issue a permit for the final section of the crude oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux’s water source. The tribe argues the pipeline would violate federal laws and potentially contaminate their drinking water and spoil sacred land. While taking their case to court, the tribe was joined on the Northern Plains by thousands of supporters. There were some violent clashes with police, and more than 580 people have been arrested since August.

With the first arrests of Trans-Pecos protesters in his county earlier this month, Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez worried about their intentions.

“They’re peaceful, but you get a couple in there who want to stir it up and cause some drama,” Dominguez told HuffPost. “They have the right to protest, but they need to do it legally.”

Energy Transfer Partners contends that the Trans-Pecos Pipeline will improve regional air quality by supplying cleaner-burning natural gas as an alternative to wood-, coal- and diesel-powered plants in northern Mexico. Pipelines like this are necessary because renewable energy sources can’t keep up with America’s demand, a company spokeswoman said in a statement.

“We understand that there are a number of opinions regarding our country’s need for infrastructure, including underground pipelines to transport natural gas and crude oil. However, underground pipelines provide the most environmentally safe and the most efficient means to transport natural gas, crude oil or other carbon-based energy products that are critical to Americans’ daily lives, and to our economy,” said spokeswoman Vicki Granado.

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