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Farmers Raise Concerns About Pipeline Construction

"Our fathers would be turning in their graves if they knew what was happening." said one farmer.

Thu October 22, 2015 - West Edition
Aileen B. Flores - El Paso Times

SAN ELIZARIO, Texas (AP) - The tranquility of lifelong San Elizario farmer Abraham Grijalva has been disrupted by the banging and beeping of heavy machinery ripping through acres of cotton crops while building an underground natural gas pipeline less than 100 yards from his front door.

Grijalva, 70, has been working since he was 10 years old on farmland located just a few yards from the border fence.

The El Paso Times ( ) reports Grijalva is one of dozens of landowners in the Clint-San Elizario area who have sold or are in negotiations to sell easements to two large companies, ONEOK Partners and Energy Transfer Partners, for the construction of natural gas pipelines that are going to connect to other pipelines on the other side of the border to provide gas to Mexico’s electricity commission.

The Roadrunner Gas Transmission Pipeline, a joint project bet Tulsa, Oklahoma-based ONEOK Partners and Fermaca, a Mexican gas company, is expected to carry natural gas from Cayanosa to a border-crossing connection in San Elizario. From there, it will connect to the Tarahumara gas pipeline in Chihuahua, Mexico.

The other project is the Comanche Trail Pipeline, owned by a consortium comprised of Energy Transfers Partners, MasTec and Carso Energy.

Carso Energy is owned by Carlos Slim, Mexico’s wealthiest man. The Comanche pipeline will transport natural gas from Samalayuca, south of Juárez, to Sasabe in the state of Sonora, Mexico.

Grijalva said ONEOK Partners approached him early in the year with a letter asking for permission to survey his land. However, the letter stated that if permission was not granted, he was going to be taken to court, he said.

”They threatened us with a lawsuit. Once they surveyed, they said, `It’s going through. There is nothing you can do’,’ said Grijalva, who did not disclose how much he was offered per acre.

Grijalva said he has only been approached by ONEOK. He said he does not expect nor wants to be approached by Energy Transfer Partners.

A spokesman for ONEOK did not respond to a request for comment. Other landowners declined to speak on record because they are in negotiations or are afraid of retaliation.

Under Texas law, gas pipelines are entitled to exercise eminent domain authority.

Grijalva said landowners are frustrated because there is nothing they can do to stop these companies from going through their properties.

”We weren’t able to stop these people, ONEOK. Now, they are saying they are paying for the loss of crops. But that was not the issue. We were not interested in their money at all. It was just the fact that they came through with no opposition really. We couldn’t do anything,’ Grijalva said.

”Eminent domain _ I always thought was meant to be for the good of the people, for the benefit of the people. In this case, the only thing it’s for is the greed of the company.

”Nobody here is benefiting from that,’ he said. ”That gas line is going directly into Mexico, to provide Mexico with natural gas for their power plants.’

Grijalva said he does not understand why the company decided to cut through cultivated land instead of passing the pipeline through the area farther down the valley where there are no homes and there is nothing but sand hills.

”Our fathers would be turning in their graves, to tell you the truth, if they knew what was happening, because they worked very hard, along with us, of course, to save that little piece of land,’ he said.

Although, he will be able to continue to farm the land, Grijalva said the issue is the devaluation of his land and the possible safety threat that the pipeline poses to him and his neighbors. He alleged that natural gas pipelines are known for exploding.

Last Friday, a 36-inch natural gas pipeline exploded in Encinal, a community north of Laredo. No injuries were reported.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, about 650 significant incidents involving gas pipelines were reported from January 2003 to November 2014, resulting in 19 fatalities and 63 injuries.

Both ONEOK and Energy Transfers Partners have assured natural gas pipelines are the safest way to carry the material across the state.

Grijalva said landowners fear the Roadrunner Gas Transmission Pipeline and the Comanche Trail Pipeline are just the beginning of more pipelines cutting through their farmland in the near future.

The construction of these two pipelines are a result of energy policy reforms implemented by the Mexican government last year, which allow foreign companies to invest and partner with companies in Mexico’s energy industry.

Patrick Schaefer, executive director for the HUNT institute for global competitiveness at the University of Texas at El Paso, said that besides the two pipelines being built in the Lower Valley, he does not foresee any more ”significant’ cross border hydrocarbon infrastructures being built in the near future.

”I think this is going to be a big project and it’s going to take some time to settle in and get used before there is any more immediate pipeline activity between the U.S. and northern Mexico in our border region,’ Schaefer said.

He said both pipelines are expected to feed the new electric plant in Samalayuca.

”Juárez is a big user of natural gas that comes from Texas, that’s why they are using these pipelines to feed this new power plant,’ he said.

San Elizario Mayor Maya Sanchez said although the two pipelines aren’t going to be built within the city limits, she is concerned about the health and safety of the community.

The city of San Elizario recently approved a resolution opposing the construction of the Comanche Trail Pipeline.

Three schools are located about a mile from the construction site at Grijalva’s farm.

The Fabens Independent School District board is expected to approve a resolution Wednesday that opposes the pipeline construction. Fabens Superintendent Eldefonso Garcia said the district wants to show support to its neighbors.

The San Elizario and Clint school districts did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

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