Alpine Residents Overwhelmingly Against Fracking, Speak Out

Alpine Residents Overwhelmingly Against Fracking, Speak Out

Anum Valliani

NewsWest 9

ALPINE - Alpine residents feel the city is at a crossroads. The issue? Whether to bring in companies that will use hydraulic fracking techniques into the city. After Tuesday night's meeting, it was evident that a majority of them felt strongly against it. 
City leaders had to change venues for Tuesday's city council meeting because of the huge turnout. Residents who spoke up said they wanted to make sure that this was kept the last frontier against these oil companies, and that leaders must set the example and move forward because according to one member of the public, "once things are poisoned they can't go back."
There may have been a jam-packed agenda, but the main thing on people's minds was their quality of life.  That's what led to at least quadruple the usual attendance at Tuesday's regular city council meeting.  Residents focused on a series of concerns against threats of fracking companies taking over their city. 

Nearly a dozen people took to the podium to relay their thoughts about all the potential negative about drilling, from water pollution to other environmental hazards and potential health risks and drops in the vibrant tourism business in the area. What was missing, was a voice of support for the industries that could be trying to set up shop to find that liquid gold in the area.

"The oil industry is in a headlong rush and we need to taper off a little until the technologies are developed to the point where we don't have to suffer from respiratory ailments," Lalae Batesta, a resident of Alpine said. 

Batesta said she used to live in Odessa and other areas where fracking has taken over and that she remembers the pungent smells and the feeling of her lungs starting to fail and sores start to form- until she couldn't endure anymore, and moved to Alpine. 

Others shared similar stories of coming to the city for its beauty. "A jewel in the Big Bend" they said it is. Many ultimately begged for council members to prevent the place from environmental destruction. 

They even offered alternatives, proposing leaders shift their attention to strengthening their mark in other areas. "Why not promote eco tourism, or things like that?" one citizen inquired.

Oscar Cobos, who was one of the public speakers, applauded the democratic spirit that he felt was clearly present. For him, money wasn't a cause for caving in. "I've always said that we're not going to settle for a few dollars more," he said.
Afterwards the Sierra Club of Big Bend delivered a presentation on their concerns. They performed independent research and tried to get companies to address their questions. But they claimed those companies are being unresponsive and not transparent about the dangers associated with fracking. 

The city manager, Erik Zimmer, said that he had been in contact with residents that were on the other side of the issue, however, he wasn't sure if they were just being shy at the meeting, or they never showed up.

"Obviously the companies that are doing the fracking as they move farther into West Texas will be invited to come in and speak as well so time is of the essence and we've got to continue to dig into this," Zimmer said.

The meeting also boasted another round of robust conversation on the council member's budget and method training and meetings. Once again led by John Waters with the Big Bend Gazette, he probed the leaders to comment on why they can't save money on their trips- possibly carpool when going to the same meetings.

He proposed that the council cut their budget in half for such expenses. It would still just be a matter of a few thousand dollars out of millions in the total budget.

No one responded to Waters' questioning

Councilwoman Angie Bermudez grew a little emotional, these trainings are important because they help them get mollify some fears associated with the position, such as what they're legally allowed to say, how to dissect various documents and issues, and in her personal case fear of public speaking. She also said these events allow Alpine to stick up for itself among the slew of other bigger cities that get all the attention.

"We're there to fight for us," Bermudez said.

Another resident proposed that each council member have a set budget to "use or lose" every year. But the opinion that garnered the most support was when a citizen said that critics of the council's educational trainings weren't against them going to such meetings, but were instead pushing for more conservation of money. She further added that to tie the two issues together, she would hope the council would go and become experts on fracking, just prudently.

The council said they have a lot to think about. At this point they're not sure if it'll be enough to keep the companies away but they want to make sure to be the voice of the people. 

Zimmer said he and the mayor will determine how to proceed. Additionally the council still has to fill the city.