Pipeline Wars: Voices of Texas Water Protectors

Voices Raised at Texas Park and Wildlife’s Meeting Against Kelcy Warren, Against Dakota Access, Against Trans-Pecos, Against Comanche Trail…

Jacalyn Hagans of the Society of Native Nations outside the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission chambers. Image: Greg Harman

More than 100 self-described “water protectors” sung, chanted, and prayed for more than an hour and a half on Friday morning before a few dozen entered the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting to challenge the inclusion of  oil and gas pipeline billionaire Kelcy Warren among its board members.

Warren, appointed by Governor Greg Abbott a year ago, is the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the company working to link the fracklands of North Dakota with an energy hub in Illinois. The multi billion-dollar effort, with plenty of partners and an array of financial backers. Private security and heavily militarized regional police forces have been used against a sustained and committed resistance by the Standing Rock Sioux and their many allies.

Primary investors in Dakota Access include ETP, Sunoco Logistics, Phillips 66, Enbridge Energy Partners. and Marathon Petroleum Corp.

Drawing attendees from the western end of Texas, however, is the fact that Warren’s company is also the one behind a trio* of pipelines being run to Mexico from the West Texas Permian Basin: one across the Big Bend, still almost untouched by the fracking boom, and two out toward El Paso. [See: “Controlled Burn: Fire, Pipelines, and Defending Big Bend.”]

Warren, was targeted, again and again, by commenters speaking ostensibly on a proposal to clear a swathe across protected marshland in East Texas for San Antonio-based GT Logistic’s coil of refined petroleum fuel pipelines for an easy path to the global market. Many speakers closed their thoughts decrying the presence of an oilman so committed to industrializing the landscape  on a commission meant to protect natural Texas.

More in-depth meeting coverage will appear in the Austin Chronicle next week, so today I’m including only these brief interviews with several who rallied outside the Parks Department headquarters yesterday. I asked each what drew them to this event.

Brian Hilton, Choctaw resident of Austin:

Anayanse Garza, Vecinos de Mission Trails:

Tane Ward, Equilibrio Norte:

Fox RedSky, filmmaker:

In these comments are the same messages we hear from Standing Rock over sovereignty struggles and the damages done by the oil economy. The message of, “Enough is enough.”

It is time, many said Friday, for a new energy economy. Pipelines, as RedSky said in her comments to the Commissioners, represent “the black road.” A road, another elaborated, marked by the gathering forces of global warming that is capable of sweeping industrial society aside if we don’t take concerted and immediate action to change course.

Here’s a visual of what today’s oil and gas pipeline economy looks like in Harris County, Texas. The blue lines here are gas lines. The red are “hazardous liquids” lines. Purple dots are “liquid accidents” and the blue are gas leaks. (The viewer only allows county-level pipeline data, which is why those dots outside Harris seem to float unconnected to pipelines, while they are, in fact, very much connected.)

Pipeline map
Pipelines and pipeline spills in Harris County, Texas. Source: PMNHA

It’s the sort of image that must have been front of mind when several women burst out into song in the midst of the meeting to be quickly escorted out by security:

The room was stunned silent, however, when Pete Hefflin**, of the new organization, Society of Native Nations, was able to draw Warren out into conversation and even broker a deal to meet privately to discuss widespread claims that ETP has been destroying native graves in North Dakota. By the time Warren recused himself on the easement vote, helping tank it for now, the wind had already left the room.

But more on that when the Chronicle goes to press middle of next week.


* Correction: Two ETP pipelines. The third ,the Road Runner pipeline, is being built by ONEOK.

** Pete Hefflin’s actual name is Pedro Rabago Gutierrez, as his March 2017 arrest revealed.