January 11, 2023 701 PM
FAR WEST TEXAS — A pipeline that could transport 2.834 billion standard cubic feet of natural gas per day, beginning in the Permian Basin and crossing the border of Mexico at Hudspeth County, is currently under review.
Saguaro Connector Pipeline LLC, a subsidiary of ONEOK, Inc., in December submitted an application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a permit to construct facilities to transport natural gas across the border from Hudspeth County into Mexico, where it would then be transferred to a planned natural gas export facility on the West Coast of Mexico.
Though the pipeline under federal review would connect to a much larger natural gas pipeline planned to snake through West Texas, the application process only applies to the relatively small portion that meets the border.
The two-part application seeks a FERC authorization and a “presidential permit” to construct and maintain the border facilities, which would cover roughly 1,000 feet of 48-inch-diameter pipeline beneath the Rio Grande. Per the application, the facilities would cost $9,500,000 to construct and affect approximately 35.5 acres of land.
Landowners affected by the project under FERC jurisdiction have been notified of the project by Saguaro via introduction letters, the application says — a list of affected landowners has not been made public and is labeled “privileged information.”
But the rest of the planned pipeline, to which the border facilities would connect, are intrastate — falling entirely within the state of Texas — thus falling under the jurisdiction of the Texas Railroad Commission, and do not require approval or permitting from the federal government. That intrastate pipeline will span 155 miles, transporting natural gas from the Waha Hub in Pecos County to the border – along the way, it would go through Reeves, Jeff Davis, Culberson and Hudspeth counties. As it nears the border, it will be in proximity to the historic Indian Hot Springs site.
Locals are already raising ecological concerns and concerns regarding archaeological sites near the pipeline’s path.
Local archeologist David Keller noted the pipeline would pass near some undisturbed archaeological sites in Hudspeth County. “Archeological sites are ubiquitous, all over the place,” he said. “There’s no way you can do that much ground disturbance without disrupting some sites.
“These projects do a lot of damage, ecologically and to cultural sites,” he continued.
Independent researcher Coyne Gibson, who monitors seismic activity in his home county of Reeves, expressed concern about the pipeline’s path through an area that has recently seen an alarming jump in seismic activity. Beyond that, he expressed concern about its path through sparsely populated territory, with few first responders, which he saw as a public safety matter.
“This is a high pressure transmission line spanning some of the least populated, poorest counties in Texas,” he said.
Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at advocacy group Public Citizen, says he has concerns about the project and has already intervened in the proceedings to make his concerns known. Public Citizen’s concerns have to do with the impact of exporting natural gas on domestic energy markets, Slocum explained. “We’re going to be saying to FERC, you need to examine the market impacts that moving this volume of gas out of the United States and into international markets is going to have,” he said.
The end result of the pipeline is to be the exporting of natural gas out of Mexico, he said, participating in the global natural gas market. On those grounds, Slocum questioned the application’s claim that the pipeline was in the public interest because it is exporting natural gas to Mexico, a country with which the U.S. has a free trade agreement.
“I don’t know how courts will view that or how FERC will view that, but I plan on challenging this designation, as they’re basically saying –– this pipeline is automatically in the public interest because we’re exporting to a country with whom we have a free trade agreement,” he said. The fact the gas will afterwards be exported out of Mexico calls that claim into question, he argued.
But the portion of the pipeline under federal review and open to public comment is only that which meets the border — the 1,000 feet for which Saguaro is seeking approval. FERC has set a deadline of January 26 at 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time to submit motions to intervene. That information can be found at https://elibrary.ferc.gov/eLibrary/filelist?accession_num=20230105-3020.
The application can be read in its entirety via the FERC website, at https://elibrary.ferc.gov/eLibrary/filelist?accession_number=20221220-5286.
If all goes according to plan, per the application, Saguaro hopes to receive approval from FERC in 2023 and to begin construction in 2024, with plans for it to become operational in 2025.