TUCSON, Ariz. -- An El Paso power company is trying to build a natural gas project crossing the Arizona border to power Mexican towns. But the project is meeting some resistance, including that of the U.S. Border Patrol.
Kinder Morgan Energy Partners wants to build a natural gas pipeline that will extend from just north of Tucson, through a wildlife refuge, across the Mexican border, and leading into a system in Mexico. It’s an ambitious project, among the first of its kind across the border. It's driven by a boom in natural gas production in the U.S.
If the pipeline is approved, it will connect to a 625-mile-long pipeline in Mexico that will fuel cities along Sonora’s Sea of Cortez, near Puerto Libertad, and the seaport of Guaymas.
Earlier this month, Kinder Morgan reached an agreement with Mexican customers.
“The project would provide between 160 to 210 million cubic feet of gas per day that would fuel new gas-fired electric generation plants in Mexico," said Tamara Young Allen, a spokeswoman for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Right now those plants run on fuel oil.
Democratic Congressman Raúl Grijalva of Arizona is concerned about the route and wrote a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
"The intent was the route. The intent of taking natural gas to Mexico was not the primary issue with me," Grijalva said.
That proposed route runs through parts of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge on the border. One Border Patrol official in Tucson wrote a letter to the energy regulators, saying the pipeline could create a route for drug smugglers to use once a path is cleared through the desert vegetation.
Border Patrol Tucson station chief Roger San Martin wrote: "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."
The pipeline will need the regulatory commission’s approval. Both the Border Patrol and Grijalva have asked that the pipeline run along the highway outside the refuge instead.
Kinder Morgan declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this story.