by Claire Bernish, The Free Thought Project:
Energy Transfer Partners, the company responsible for construction of the hotly contentious Dakota Access Pipeline, has another controversial pipeline project with the potential to contaminate drinking water and the environment and destroy an area in Texas described as sacred and environmentally vital — and the ruthless company has been suing landowners to snatch their property for its own profiteering.
Known as the Trans-Pecos pipeline, the relatively short 143-mile project would carry natural gas from western Texas’ Permian Basin — likened to “America’s Saudi Arabia” as the country’s “Most Important Oil and Gas Resource” by Forbes — across the border into Mexico. But this project will run through the state’s pristine, remote Big Bend area, considered sacred to some and an environmental treasure to others, and — despite Texas’ long history of devotion to Big Oil and Gas — has sparked vociferous debate about property rights and corporate power.
“It’s a sacred landscape,” explained Texan David Keller, an archaeologist at Sul Ross State University’s Center for Big Bend Studies, for the Texas Tribune last year. “It truly is the last best place in Texas. When you destroy that landscape, you lose that sense of place.”
Headed by billionaire Kelcy Warren, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) has taken 40 Big Bend ranchers to court with eminent domain lawsuits to wrest them of their property under the premise the pipeline would be in the public interest — a claim backed by proponents who say construction and implementation would bring much-needed cash to the area’s impoverished towns.
Although the majority of Texans describe themselves as friendly to Big Oil, the Trans-Pecos pipeline’s Big Bend path exposed a rift the state hadn’t previously experienced.
“They figure they can just show up and condemn your land,” landowner Tom Beard told the Tribune. Beard and his wife and former Brewster County judge, Val, noted they’d never had concerns about the state’s pervasive oil and gas industry — until they caught a surveyor for ETP trespassing unannounced and unwelcome on their land in March.
“I think energy independence is a good thing,” Val said. “This experience has told me it’s got a downside.”
Environmentalists and ranchers — ordinarily at least somewhat ideologically opposed — have teamed up in a so-far fruitless effort to stop ETP.
Thus far, special commissioners have collectively awarded several landowners just under $3 million in relief, instead of the paltry tens of thousands per ranch the company reportedly offered.
“I received this $18,000 offer and was told I had a week to accept it,” rancher Jeanne Simpson, whose family has lived on the Big Bend property since the 1880s, told Marketplace.
ETP’s offer to Simpson “was amended and raised by the commissioners to close to $700,000. Another landowner who was offered $16,000 was awarded close to $500,000. Another was offered $33,000 and received close to $1 million,” Marketplace reported, evidencing the farcically low assessments by ETP.
“Honestly, I don’t think it’s possible” to give fair compensation, Simpson asserted. “My immediate goal is to receive fair compensation for the damage that’s going to be done to my ranch.”
But the company has nearly limitless funds — millions in damage payouts have done little to halt the progress of pipeline construction, which began in June this year and is slated to be fully operational by March 2017.
“The net of this is you’ve got a $766 million project, and the revenue backed up could be in the billions,” Coyne Gibson, a volunteer with the pipeline opposition Big Bend Conservation Alliance (BBCA), as quoted in the Observer. “If everyone got $1 million, you’re still looking at chump change [for ETP].”
Ranchers and landowners accuse ETP of low-balling offers to access their land, in part because the company doesn’t feel it should take devaluation of property value from the presence of its infrastructure into consideration. Special commissioners are designated to decide these cases of eminent domain; but as explained by the Observer, the hearings amount to little more than ordinary administrative proceedings:
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