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Activists Look To Repeat Standing Rock Success In West Texas

Roger Siglin, chained to the gates of a Trans-Pecos Pipeline equipment yard in Alpine. (Noble Baker)

The protest led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe against an oil pipeline in North Dakota is inspiring opponents of similar projects to keep fighting despite the odds. One such project is being built in West Texas by the same company that's behind the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Activists here are hoping for a repeat of the success scene at Standing Rock, where construction was halted after the Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit that project needed to move forward.

It's a chilly morning before dawn in the small, remote town of Alpine, and 80-year-old Roger Siglin is chained to the gates of a pipeline equipment yard.

"I hate to see the industrialization of the most undisturbed area of Texas," he says.

Siglin and a few others are here protesting the 143-mile Trans-Pecos natural gas pipeline, a West Texas-to-Mexico project from Energy Transfer Partners.

This pipeline is the first of its kind and size in this borderlands region in Texas known mostly for sprawling ranches and dark skies. Siglin and another protester, Lori Glover, were arrested and charged with trespassing. They say police were cordial and gave them plenty of chances to unlock themselves voluntarily.

Opponents have been organizing against this pipeline for more than a year. Their efforts have been peaceful and legal, and mostly unsuccessful. Travel this region's highways and you'll see miles of green pipes stretched across the high desert, waiting to be buried underground. Construction crews are working to get the project up and running in the next few months.

Later at home, Glover says some of the more diehard opponents here feel a sense of urgency and see the Standing Rock Sioux's success in North Dakota as a model for more intense tactics.

"We're hoping to be forming an encampment where other people from around Texas and from Standing Rock will come and help us to thwart this pipeline," she says.

Doing that here might be tougher. This pipeline doesn't run near any Native American territory and, except for where it crosses the border, all through private land. So Glover and her group would have to find a sympathetic landowner to let them build a protest camp. She claims they're making progress in that direction, but she won't say where or when this plan will take shape.

Sometimes-violent clashes between police and protesters have broken out in North Dakota in recent weeks, but local Sheriff Ronny Dodson doesn't sound worried about something like that in West Texas.

"You know, we'll just take it as we can get it," he says. "If there was 200 or 300 protesters and stuff like that, then we might have to stand up and, you know, be ready for it."

He says he understands the two arrested protesters were, in his words, "trying to make a stand."

Glover describes her West Texas home as a peaceful community, saying most people aren't necessarily willing to be arrested for a cause. But she thinks - or hopes - that could be changing.

"I'm hearing from people now, since we, I guess set an example, that they are," she says. "And I think there's an anger that's rising, and it's spreading, and it's going beyond just the party lines."

An Energy Transfer representative declined an interview request, saying in a statement the company "respects everyone's right to peacefully protest." But the company's CEO, Kelcy Warren, has described the tactics of some Dakota Access protesters as "terrorism," so it's not clear how long that respectful attitude will last if this West Texas fight escalates like some are hoping.
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Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.