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Work at Alpine Staging Ground for Trans-Pecos Pipeline Can Continue Amid TCEQ Investigation

Staging ground for the Trans-Pecos Pipeline in Alpine, TX. (Travis Bubenik / KRTS)

This post has been updated to reflect new developments.

Update Friday, May 16

Work at the Alpine staging site for the Trans-Pecos Pipeline can continue amid an ongoing Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) investigation into complaints that the site is being cleared without proper stormwater controls in place.

"The TCEQ has not taken any action to cease the operations/activities at this site," TCEQ spokesperson Terry Clawson said in an emailed-statement.

Information is still being gathered as that investigation continues, though TCEQ has said the nature of the complaints do not fall under its jurisdiction.

In an email, the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) indicted it also does not have authority over pipeline staging areas such as the one in Alpine.

"Pipeline safety regulations address the safe operation of a pipeline, not staging areas," RRC Spokesperson Ramona Nye said in an email. "Generally, the Railroad Commission has no authority over the routing or siting of pipelines."

Read our original story below for more.

Original Post

After construction was halted on a staging ground for Energy Transfer's planned Trans-Pecos Pipeline amid an investigation into six complaints filed against the site, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) said Thursday afternoon it has learned the nature of the complaints do not fall under its jurisdiction.

Thursday morning, TCEQ spokesperson Lisa Wheeler told KRTS the commission launched an investigation after the complaints were filed to the commission's El Paso regional office on Wednesday.

The complaints allege the plot of land behind the old Coca Cola bottling plant in Alpine has been cleared by Pumpco, Inc. without proper stormwater runoff controls in place.

While the investigation is still ongoing, the TCEQ now says its stormwater runoff permits - required for construction projects based on the size of the project - do not apply to the Alpine staging site.

"Stormwater runoff from construction activities associated with the exploration, development, or production of oil or gas or geothermal resources, including transportation of crude oil or natural gas by pipeline, is not under the authority of the TCEQ," commission spokesperson Terry Clawson said in an emailed statement.

"These circumstances, that TCEQ does not have authority for stormwater discharges for this site and that a TCEQ permit would therefore not be applicable, were discussed with a representative of Pumpco."

It wasn't immediately clear whether this meant work could continue at the Alpine site, or whether it would remain halted as the investigation continues.

"The TCEQ has not shutdown nor granted approval for the operations at this site," Clawson said.

In the initial stages of the investigation, TCEQ spokesperson Lisa Wheeler said investigators had not found any TCEQ approvals on file for the staging ground.

“No information was available on any authorizations that might exist for the site,” Wheeler said in an email.

Wheeler said a TCEQ investigator questioned workers at the Alpine site on Wednesday, as a supervisor wasn’t on hand. The investigator then informed the workers that the site was not authorized to continue operating.

“The workers indicated that they would cease operations at the site,” Wheeler said.

Brewster County Commissioner Luc Novovitch said he was surprised to hear of the investigation, given that he’d asked Energy Transfer representatives about this very issue at a recent commissioners meeting.

Novovitch said residents living near the pipeline staging site had expressed a variety of concerns, among them, requirements for managing stormwater runoff.

“I clearly remember asking, among other things, what should be done,” Novovitch said. “The engineer answered that things will be in place.”

TCEQ has since spoken with one party that filed one of the complaints, along with a Pumpco, Inc. foreman. The commission has also contacted the other five complainants.

“At this time the investigation is not yet final, however, the TCEQ will take appropriate action in accordance with agency procedures and policies,” Wheeler said.

While the investigation is ongoing, Novovitch said it is nonetheless concerning.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s not very conductive of a very healthy relationship with the people in charge of doing all this work,” he said, referring to Energy Transfer.

“When we now have the TCEQ doing an intervention over there, first, it confirmed that they tell us probably what we want to know sometimes, but also that we have to check and double-check everything that’s supposed to be done from their part.”

Pumpco, Inc. is a Giddings, TX-based pipeline construction company. The company has worked on a number of other Energy Transfer projects in the Permian Basin and other parts of Texas.

A request for comment sent to an Alpine-based representative for Pumpco, Inc. was not immediately returned. Requests for comment from Energy Transfer were also not returned.

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