Mexican farmers brace for pipeline
By SASHA von OLDERSHAUSEN
OJINAGA, Chihuahua, Mexico – The Trans Pecos Pipeline saga has pegged those who support its economic potential against those who see the pipeline project as a virulent menace to the environmental sanctity of the pristine Big Bend region. And as the fight intensifies over the pipeline that is projected to span from West Texas into Mexico, one crucial voice has not been heard: Mexico’s.
On July 12, members of the ejido “El Paradero” gathered with representatives of Gasoducto de Aguaprieta, the company tasked with overseeing the planning stages of Mexico’s side of the pipeline, to discuss the details of its construction.
An ejido is a tract of communal land that is used for agriculture, and on which a community of people farm cooperatively or individually. While each member of the ejido, also known as an ejidatario, has certain possessory rights to the parcel of land they farm, they do not technically own it in the conventional sense of the word because it is not private property.
“El Paradero,” which is located on the outskirts of Ojinaga, Mexico, comprises between 4,500 and 5,400 acres, according to Humberto Zubia – a Presidio resident, who is also one of “El Paradero’s” 100 ejidatarios. There are no paved roads here—only a network of dirt paths that crisscross the land, much of which lies fallow.
Zubia said the pipeline company contacted “El Paradero” approximately two months ago and expressed its intent to run the pipeline through the ejido. Since that time, the company has conducted two town hall meetings on the ejido, with a third slated for August 2.
“Right away, they supported the project,” Zubia said of the ejidotarios. “Agriculture has been suffering. Some people are hoping to put the money they receive back into the land.”
Alfalfa and cotton account for much of what is grown at “El Paradero,” but with a struggling agricultural economy, many of the ejidatarios don’t even have enough money to invest in fertilizer for their land.
How much they can expect to receive from the pipeline has not yet been determined.
But at the July meeting, the mood was neutral and calm—a far cry from the recent pipeline-related meetings across the border, which have drawn irate crowds.
Representatives of Gasoducto de Aguaprieta gave their pitch while El Paradero’s ejidatarios listened: The natural gas pipeline slated to run from Texas to Mexico would provide Mexico with a source of natural gas—a cleaner-burning fossil fuel than oil or coal.
At a news conference celebrating the second anniversary of the reopening of the port at Boquillas earlier this year, Juan José Guerra Abud, Mexico’s Environment and Natural Resources Secretary echoed the same sentiment: “Natural gas is the cleanest molecule of all fossil fuels,” he said. “In Mexico, we want to increase the use of natural gas, especially for electricity. We’re switching from coal to natural gas to produce electricity. Of course, we’re also increasing renewable energy. But the big goal will be through natural gas.”
In 2006, the structure of Mexico’s internal energy supply amounted to 87.45 percent fossil fuels with 52.43 percent of that supplied by oil, 26.24 percent supplied by natural gas and 3.5 percent supplied by coal, according to Laura Randall’s “Changing Structure of Mexico: Political, Social and Economic Prospects.”
The natural gas pipeline project also represents the beginnings of Mexico’s recent massive overhaul of the country’s energy industry, which under current President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration, opened its doors to foreign investment after maintaining total sovereignty of its energy resources for more than 70 years.
Of the 100 ejidatarios that comprise El Paradero, a total of 44—those who have rights to live and graze on the land—will benefit financially from the project.
Much of the meeting was devoted to discussing logistics. Representatives from Gasoducto de Aguaprieto documented the names of those beneficiaries, and detailed the process by which these ejidatarios would be required to vote on all decisions related to the pipeline construction at El Paradero.
Zubia said he was aware of the opposition campaign that has emerged in response to the pipeline project, but felt that Texas landowners were using the rhetoric of opposition as leverage for entering in negotiations with the pipeline company.
As far as the ejido’s own negotiations were concerned, Zubia said they plan to ask the pipeline company to employ residents of Ojinaga and Presidio for construction of the pipeline.
When asked whether he trusts the pipeline company, Zubia said, “Nowadays there is no such thing as trust.”
He added, “But we’re trying to do everything legally. We’re trying to proceed in a way that holds them accountable.”