Pipeline plan raises smuggling concerns
Nov 15, 2012 (Menafn - The Arizona Daily Star - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --A subsidiary of pipeline company Kinder Morgan Energy Partners has reached agreement to build a new pipeline through a rural area southwest of Tucson to deliver natural gas to customers in Mexico, Kinder Morgan announced Wednesday.
Kinder Morgan would not disclose the customers' names.
But while the company says this line will create jobs and transport low-cost gas to Mexico, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva released on Wednesday a highly critical letter by a U.S. Border Patrol official warning that the pipeline will spark more trafficking of illegal immigrants and narcotics from Mexico to the United States.
"It is my position that creating a south to north road originating at the United States-Mexico border will undoubtedly lead to a considerable increase in alien and narcotics trafficking through the area," wrote Roger San Martin, agent in charge of the Border Patrol's Tucson station. "The installation of a pipeline would inadvertently create a route of egress for transnational criminal organizations," more commonly known as drug cartels, he wrote.
The proposed El Paso Natural Gas pipeline, which needs U.S. government approval, would run about 60 miles from Tucson to the Mexican border at Sasabe.
The 36-inch-diameter line could initially carry 200 million cubic feet of gas daily into Mexico through the Altar Valley, a 610,000-acre area that today is occupied mainly by ranchers and the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. The pipeline would connect at a new border crossing with a second, 36-inch diameter pipeline to be built in Mexico.
Kinder Morgan spokesman Richard Wheatley said the company will not elaborate on its news release announcing the agreement.
Previously, the company Sempra International has said its Mexican business unit was awarded two contacts by the Mexican federal electricity commission, known as CFE, to build, own and operate an 11 billion, approximately 500-mile pipeline network that would eventually connect with the Sasabe pipeline, Kinder Morgan said.
This new pipeline would benefit both the United States and Mexico economically, said Mark Kissel, Kinder Morgan's natural gas pipeline Western regional president.
"This agreement supports the ongoing development of the approximately 200 million Sasabe Lateral pipeline, which would create new jobs in Arizona, and also provide a market for transporting abundant, low-priced U.S. gas production to Mexico," Kissel said in the news release. "In addition, the project will help Mexico meet its environmental goals of converting existing fuel-oil-fired power generation plants to efficient, clean-burning natural gas and also having natural-gas supplies available for new plants in the future."
But San Martin wrote that the increase in immigrant and narcotics trafficking caused by the pipeline will be amplified further if the line's right of way bypasses the Border Patrol's checkpoint on Arizona 286 through the Altar Valley. Although other unimproved roads to the north can be used to circumvent the checkpoint, there currently is no access to them directly from the international boundary, he wrote.
While the gas company doesn't intend for the 100- to 125-foot-wide pipeline easement to be a permanent road, "according to their own estimate it will take approximately five years" for the area, once cleared, to return to its natural state, San Martin wrote on Oct. 24 to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The pipeline needs the commission's approval.
"As soon as the desert vegetation and any natural obstacles are removed for construction, I believe the criminal element will immediately begin using this route for their illicit activities, even before the pipeline is completed," San Martin continued. "This will prevent the area from returning to its pre-construction state for an indefinite period."
In addition, this pipeline route will allow criminal organizations to create a large web of numerous other roads to link with the pipeline easement at different points, "in order to defeat law-enforcement efforts," San Martin wrote.
Then, the general public and hunters legally using the area will also begin using the routes, many of which will become full-fledged roads, he added. He cited a newspaper article from Texas showing that natural-gas drilling there already is creating a boon for drug traffickers.
San Martin and Grijalva, in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, both urged the federal-energy commission to select an alternative route for the natural-gas line. Grijalva, a Tucson Democrat, suggested alternatives using existing infrastructure that avoid the Altar Valley.
Kinder Morgan's Wheatley would not comment on San Martin's letter.
Contact reporter Tony Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 806-7746.
___ (c)2012 The Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Ariz.) Visit The Arizona Daily Star
(Tucson, Ariz.) at www.azstarnet.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
Copyright (C) 2012, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson