Water Protectors Fight Trans-Pecos Pipeline in West Texas

Greg Harman/ Water protectors atop a pipeline in west Texas.

Standing Rock inspires escalation and arrests at Energy Transfer Partners’ west Texas pipeline

ALPINE, Texas—In recent weeks, a small but steady stream of water protectors have begun to travel to western Texas to join escalating efforts to stop Energy Transfer Partners’ (ETP) Trans-Pecos Pipeline.

Dallas-based ETP is the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) still being resisted by indigenous leaders and their non-Native allies who are trying to stop it from being routed underneath Lake Oahe on the Missouri River, a half-mile from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

“I went to Standing Rock to stand with the veterans, went home to Pueblo (Colorado), could not acclimate myself back into my home, so now I’m in Alpine, Texas,” said Miya Cuwe, of Blackfoot/Cherokee and Irish descent. “I will continue until this is done or I am done.”

Like many others, she first landed at Camp Deer Trail in Alpine, Texas, which served as a landing spot for water protectors until disbanding in mid-January. Members have since gravitated to the Two Rivers Camp in neighboring Presidio County, which has been leading direct actions on the Trans-Pecos Pipeline.

“I’m honored and extremely grateful that folks from Standing Rock are migrating to Two Rivers to defend the land and water,” said Dave Cortez, an organizer from the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “I hope to see more Texans doing the same.”

Virginia Brotherton first opened her Alpine property months ago to help facilitate Trans-Pecos opposition. The movement in West Texas is about more than one or two pipelines, she said. It’s about advocating for a cultural and political shift away from climate-destabilizing fossil fuels and a return to values that put care for the Earth at the center of human behavior.

“I feel like if we don’t do something as a people, then Mother Earth is going to revolt herself,” Brotherton said.

Two Rivers Camp, led by the Society of Native Nations and Big Bend Defense Coalition, both advocacy groups, has taken the lead on a string of actions. Recent weeks have seen an escalation of such tactics, including self-described water protectors chaining themselves to excavation equipment along the pipeline’s easement. To date at least six arrests have been made, most on misdemeanor trespassing charges. But Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez has told local television news that “in the future all applicable charges will be filed on individuals found violating any laws pertaining to Texas Penal Code.”

“Two Rivers Camp is committed to continued efforts to obstruct the Trans-Pecos, to raise public awareness, and demand regulation of pipelines and all extractive industries,” said Lori Glover, a founder of the Big Bend Defense Coalition. “We demand honoring of the First Amendment rights for the American people to peacefully protest and the honoring of indigenous rights.”

Glover was arrested earlier this month after chaining herself to company excavation equipment. She was charged with misdemeanor trespassing and a felony “for interfering with a public gas utility,” according to the Marfa Big Bend Sentinel/Presidio International. Other arrests include a 16-year-old Lakota youth who had recently been on the front lines at Standing Rock who allegedly locked herself to pipeline construction equipment in Presidio County.

“No one wants to go to jail, but we’re willing to because it’s something we all believe in,” said Aaron Tellez of the recently formed Society of Native Nations.

ETP’s Trans-Pecos and Comanche Trails pipelines are intended to move large quantities of natural gas from the frackinig lands of West Texas into Mexico by tunneling beneath the Rio Grande. Mexico is engaged in a major natural-gas expansion to aid industrial projects in that country while still allowing it to meet international climate-change obligations. Opponents argue that the line tramples on landowner rights and that the company has failed to consult with Native tribes.

The expansion of natural gas lines from West Texas will inevitably help facilitate a fracking boom in that region of the state, opponents say, leading to a corresponding boom in climate-damaging methane emissions and further spoiling of the Big Bend landscape. To date, the vast and ecologically diverse region has been spared such development.

Roughly 100 miles north of Two Rivers, another native-led camp has been established to push back against the fracking taking place at the top of the pipeline. Camp Toyahvale is dedicated to protecting the sacred Balmorhea Springs as Apache Corporation prepares to drill hundreds of fracking wells in the area. Instead of direct-action tactics, its primary approach will be through scientific water-quality monitoring and cultural education.

Texas resident Juliana Withers, who joined a recent Presidio County action, said she is hoping that indigenous peoples remain “front and center” in the national conversation about pipelines.

“We haven’t been silent, we just haven’t been recognized for a very long time,” she said.

Members of the developing Two Rivers Camp in Presidio County have shut down construction four times to date.

“We’re expecting more people to come down and are planning to continue these actions until the pipeline stops,” Tellez said. “The pipeline is illegal, racist and unsafe.”

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