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Presidio County Commissioners Receive Update on Trans-Pecos Pipeline

Area residents crowd a Presidio County Commissioners meeting to hear an update on the Trans-Pecos Pipeline from Energy Transfer (Travis Bubenik / KRTS)

An overflow crowd packed Tuesday's Presidio County Commissioners meeting in Marfa to hear from Energy Transfer, the company that wants to build the Trans-Pecos Pipeline through Pecos, Brewster and Presidio counties from the Permian Basin.

Rick Smith, Energy Transfer’s V.P. of Engineering, said the company is negotiating with an unspecified number of landowners, including one with land on the Rio Grande where natural gas would enter Mexico.

“We’re talking with the landowner now,” Smith said. “That was a pre-determined point by the proposal, so we know where we’re at and we’ve already done the surveys down there.”

At the meeting, two people who gave comments said they support the pipeline. Eight others said they’re concerned the cultural fabric of the region will be compromised.

Some commissioners, including Presidio County Judge Cinderella Guevara, expressed concern about responding in the event of an accident.

"My main concern is what if an accident happened, or what radius are we looking at?" she asked. "I don't feel that I got a very definite answer on that."

Smith said he has no knowledge of four previous accidents on pipelines either co-owned or operated by Energy Transfer or its subsidiaries between 2008 and 2013.

But, he said, the Trans Pecos Pipeline will exceed safety codes already in place.

"The depth-to-cover code requires 30 inches, we're going 48, [with] testing of the wells, they only require 10%, we're going 100%, [we’re] testing the pipeline for greater than what it'll see in service," he said.

Smith says the company will apply for a presidential permit for the project no later than June 1st.

Unlike many of the people who came to voice opposition, Judge Cinderella Guevara appeared to feel it's inevitable the pipeline will be built.

"We don't really have a voice, but all we can do is since we can't stop it, hopefully we can steer it," she said. "I will make sure that they continue to listen to us and address the concerns that we have."

Energy Transfer plans to have the pipeline operating no later than 2017. The company says it expects to start construction by early 2016 or by the end of this year.

Lorne Matalon contributed reporting from Marfa.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.