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Planned pipeline clears federal hurdle

Opponents of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, the 143-mile long natural gas pipeline scheduled to be built near Texas’ Big Bend region were delivered a blow this week when federal regulators said they would not delay or block the planned project.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued an environmental assessment Monday that focused on the 1,093-foot portion of the proposed pipeline that crosses the Rio Grande River and stated that the project “would not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.”

The 42-inch-wide pipeline will carry liquefied natural gas from central Texas (near Fort Stockton) cutting through 47 miles of Pecos County, 33 miles of Brewster County and 63 miles of Presidio County before crossing beneath the Rio Grande near the town of Presidio. The pipeline could carry up to 1.4 billion cubic feet of gas to Mexico daily.

The opponents of the project include Big Bend area ranchers, environmentalists and landowners. While the ranchers and environmental activists make for unlikely bedfellows, the group shares fears that the pipeline will tarnish what many consider the most beautiful acreage in the Lone Star State, and will bring added risk for wildfires explosions. Others simply fear losing their land via eminent domain. These opponents flooded the FERC with more than 600 letters in the fall of 2015, citing legal, environmental and public safety objections.

Commissioned by the Mexican Federal Electricity Commission (Comisión Federal de Electricidad, or CFE, Mexico’s state-owned electric utility), the Trans-Pecos Pipeline is part of Mexico’s plan to modernize its energy system. The natural gas provided by the pipe will help many border town residents to stop using coal, wood and heating oil, and instead use the cleaner fuel source.

The two energy companies contracted to manage the project are an international syndicate that include Mexico-based Carso, and Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners (ETP). Spokespeople for ETP and supporters of the project champion the fact that the pipeline will bring jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue to West Texas.

While the pipeline will carry resources over—or in this case, under—an international border, it is key to note that the FERC will only have oversight of the 1,093-foot stretch of pipeline passing under the Rio Grande. This section is the only section designated as “interstate”. The remaining 143 miles of pipeline will be regulated by the Texas Railroad Commission, as it is designated an “intrastate” pipeline.

The full application for the project is still pending and public comment can be made through February 3, 2016. Should federal regulators follow this week’s recommendations and approve the project, opponents say they plan to challenge the decision in federal court.

To read about the Trans-Pecos pipeline on the project website, click here.

For more on the impact to the local community, click here.