Natural Gas Pipeline Construction

Natural gas pipeline construction in progress. Photo courtesy of V Gibson Photography.

The Trans-Pecos Pipeline, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, has leveled lawsuits against 13 landowners with whom they have failed to reach easement agreements. The lawsuits, which were filed in Brewster and Presidio Counties, are a final attempt to secure the land use agreements necessary to construct and operate the pipeline. In total, the lawsuits, if successful, will allow the company to secure 17.5 miles of land, 14.13 miles in Presidio County, and 3.37 miles in Brewster County.

The landowner response so far has been quiet acceptance. Those who offered comments seemed to view the lawsuits as inevitable.

“It’s my opinion that it was their intention all along. I have never entertained the idea that we could stop the pipeline, but there were discrepancies between the polished statements and their actions,” said Jeanne Simpson, owner of Barreno Ranch. “We tried to negotiate in good faith. This is a disappointment.”

“You can be mad or be glad about it, said Ike Livingston, who has been sued but has yet to receive formal service. “There’s not much we can do to stop it.”

“Our first priority, is to cultivate a relationship with each landowner in order to negotiate a voluntary easement agreement. Historically we have successfully reached voluntary easement agreements with more than 90% of landowners throughout the country,” said pipeline spokesperson Lisa Dillinger. “That percentage is even higher on the pipeline projects we have done in Texas.”

However, there have been concerns that negotiations have been less benevolent than pipeline spokespersons have made them out to be.

“There are some small parcel landowners that are absentee, so you could expect some suits with no malfeasance. But I know a number of the landowners that tried negotiation. Two of those believed they had reached a settlement only to receive a suit within a couple of days. It’s definitely a concern with the landowners who tried to negotiate,” said Coyne Gibson a member of the Big Bend Conservation Alliance environmental advocacy group.

“It’s good for the company, but not the landowners,” Coyne continued. “The pipeline claimed going for condemnation was the last resort, but it sure isn’t what’s happened.”

Questions have been raised regarding the appropriateness of Energy Transfer Partner’s use of condemnation. Though the project will undoubtedly create short term employment gains in the construction sector, the pipeline’s ultimate destination is Mexico. Indeed, the entire project was conceived and executed on the premise that a Mexican market exists for American natural gas. Critics have argued that the company is taking American land to benefit a foreign economy.