Alpine, Texas—In a tiny and remote West Texas town, pipeline protesters are following in the footsteps of those at Standing Rock.
Two residents of the 6,000-person city of Alpine were arrested early Tuesday morning on grounds of trespassing after they chained themselves to the entrance gates of a pipeline-construction site owned and operated by Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the Dallas-based energy company responsible for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Dozens more stood by, holding electric tea lights and signs denouncing the energy company.
Inspired by the fight against the DAPL near the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, the group was protesting a different ETP pipeline project. The Trans-Pecos Pipeline will cut through the spare and pristine Big Bend region of Texas to the border of Mexico, transporting natural gas into Mexico’s interior.
This was the latest in a more-than-two-year battle to halt the pipeline’s construction, during which its opponents have fought vigilantly, albeit through more institutionalized avenues. Since news of the pipeline began to spread in the spring of 2015, residents concerned about the environmental impact of the pipeline and its infringement on private land have collected signatures and rallied the support of local governance. They sat through condemnation hearings, and even filed suit against the pipeline company. They filed more than 600 comments with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency responsible for regulating the small segment of pipeline that would stretch beneath the Rio Grande, and requested that the entire length of the pipeline be subject to environmental review. Their request was denied in May of this year, and ETP continued construction at full steam.
Many feel their voices have fallen on deaf ears. Now, tired and disillusioned after years of protesting, and with the pipeline very near completion, opponents of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline are trying direct action for the first time.
“Our community has tried protesting in all the other acceptable ways,” said Lori Glover, a representative of the Big Bend Defense Coalition who was one of the two arrested Tuesday. “This is the last resort.”
This week’s victory at Standing Rock, in which the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would not permit the pipeline to be drilled under the Missouri River, underscored the power of direct action. Indigenous organizers and, eventually, thousands of supporters camped on the banks of the Cannonball River to protect their ancestral lands and water source. Their united action, even in the face of police violence, proved that last resorts can work.