Big Bend ranchers, landowners will fight planned natural gas pipeline to Mexico

Energy Associated Press

West Texas ranchers and landowners are up in arms over plans to build a natural gas pipeline through pristine lands of the state's Big Bend region.

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A consortium of two companies owned by billionaire businessmen has won a $767 million contract to build a 143-mile pipeline through mostly private ranch land.

Rancher Mary Luedeke said talk about condemning something by eminent domain doesn't set well with West Texas landowners. She and about 150 others met for a community meeting on the proposed pipeline.

"I'm here to try and find out where it's going and what their intent is, and to not be painted into a corner by my ignorance," said Luedeke, who is also a justice of the peace. "When I come out fighting, I'll know the facts."

The pipeline would deliver up to 1.4 billion cubic feet a day of natural gas from the Permian Basin for Mexican Federal Electricity Commission's power generation and industrial use, according to a story in the San Antonio Express-News (http://bit.ly/1D9xak2 ).

The pipeline would run south between Alpine and Marfa toward Presidio, and connect with a large pipeline on the Mexican side near Ojinaga.

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There currently are no energy transmission pipelines in the Big Bend region, or any oil or gas production.

Lisa Dillinger, a spokeswoman for Energy Transfer Partners, one of the two companies, said construction is expected to begin later this year or early in 2016.

The two companies are Carso, owned by Carlos Slim, the richest man in Mexico, and Energy Transfer, led by CEO Kelcy Warren, who Forbes says is worth $6.7 billion.

Energy Transfer said in a fact sheet released recently that the pipeline will provide millions of dollars of financial benefits to local communities in construction jobs, goods and services and taxes.

Landowners will be compensated for easements along the pipeline, which will follow existing power lines and railroads where feasible, according to the sheet.

The Big Bend region holds vast state and national parks, high peaks and scenic river canyons, pronghorns by the roadside, and a rich cultural history that includes ghost towns and real Texas cowboys.

Not everyone in the Big Bend area is opposed to the pipeline. In Presidio, along the Mexican border, the project looks alluring, the city's economic director said.

"We're hoping to get a feeder line off of it and run it into town. We have no natural gas in Presidio," Brad Newton said. "We have propane tanks in everyone's backyard. It's inconvenient. It's expensive and people can run out."

Additionally, Newton said, it would address a chronic problem of hazy air wafting over from Mexico.

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Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com