Energy Development in West Texas that Collaborates with Nature and People
“Thinking holistically about energy development in far-West Texas.
NOTE: this article was originally published to RespectBigBend.org in May 2021. It was titled “Thinking Differently About Energy Development: A Balanced Approach”
A Report from Respect Big Bend & Texas’ Tri-County Stakeholder Engagement Group
Respect Big Bend (RBB) is a project launched by the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation in 2019 to convene scientists, landowners, community members, conservation organizations and energy industry members to develop a blueprint for conserving the unique resources and iconic communities of the Big Bend Region of Texas. The process we deployed can serve as a model for any community anticipating future energy development.
The goal is to ensure that decisions about energy development in the Big Bend Region are made while considering the potential impacts of development on the values that local communities hold dear. This would allow appropriate steps to be taken to minimize negative impacts and encourage responsible development.
To facilitate local community input, RBB convened a Stakeholder Advisory Group consisting of landowners and community members from Brewster, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties (also known as the Tri-County Region). They developed a set of conservation values for the region. At the same time, RBB scientists analyzed information to estimate the impacts energy development could have on the land and communities across the Trans-Pecos, an 18-county study area that includes the Tri-County Region.
The result of the RBB project is a science-based, decision framework that maps the values of the Stakeholder Advisory Group to the landscape. The tool can be used to guide future development decisions, as well as identify priorities for long-term conservation and restoration.
Findings from the RBB process
1. Many local landscapes are intact
Within the 18-county study area, the Tri-County Region contains the highest concentration of high-quality, intact landscapes with resources that members of the Stakeholder Advisory Group highly value.
2. Impacts vary by energy type
Renewable energy sources have a footprint on the landscape that is more expansive than oil and gas but fewer impacts on water and air quality.
Because renewable sources have considerable flexibility with respect to siting, and there are large areas in the Tri-County Region with characteristics suitable for renewable development, it is possible to site the facilities in a way that minimizes or avoids impacting conservation values.
3. A blueprint for other communities
The Stakeholder Advisory Group found the Respect Big Bend landscape-scale decision framework to be a useful tool that could be used by stakeholders in other parts of Texas.
A technical report that outlines the research results and methodologies is available here:
Development by Design in West Texas: Mitigating Energy Sprawl Through Cooperative Landscape Planning