Monday, August 29, 2016

TransCanada Crosses the Sierra Tarahumara

TransCanda gas pipeline construction project in Sierra Tarahumara near Divisadero and rim of Barrancas del Cobre
/ Photo Tom Barry

TransCanada is blading a 50-ft. swath across the Sierra Tarahumara – one of the most rugged, inaccessible regions of Mexico. The energy transfer and story corporation is clearing a path of natural destruction to lay a 30-inch gas pipeline.

When completed, the pipeline will carry natural gas – a product largely of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) – from U.S. drilling fields. Connecting with the Tarahumara Pipeline that runs from the U.S.-Mexico border to south of Chihuahua City, the new TransCanada pipeline – Encino-Topolobampo Pipeline--will channel U.S. gas surpluses across the Sierra Tarahumara to fuel new electricity -generating plants on the west side of the mountain range.

In Mexico, TransCanada operates with the blessing of the Mexican government. As Mexico has opened up its energy market to foreign investors and foreign energy, TransCanada has jumped in with $5 billion in energy-infrastructure investment. The new gas pipeline across the mountains and canyons of the Sierra Tarahumara in the border state of Chihuahua is one of more than two-dozen gas pipelines or gasoductos that are being constructed across northern and central Mexico.

In the United States, TransCanada became known as a dirty-energy company because of its project to build the Keystone XL Pipeline. The Keystone XL Pipeline would have pumped carbon-heavy crude oil from Canadian oil sands across mid-America to energy refineries on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Under pressure from environmentalists from around the world, the Obama administration denied TransCanada permission for the controversial pipeline project, noting that it wouldn’t serve U.S. national interests and would contribute to global climate change.

In contrast, the Mexican government argues that the TransCanada project in the Sierra Tarahumara and the many other transnational and transregional gasoductos serve the country’s national interests and reduce carbon emissions. Most observers agree with the government’s argument in favor of a massive network of U.S.-sourced gasoductos.  Advocates of transferring U.S. natural gas to Mexico point to the relatively low cost of natural gas imports, the absence of dependable Mexican gas production, and the advantages of converting the country’s generating plants from coal and oil to cleaner natural gas.

Neither in the United States nor in Mexico has there been much public discussion or policy debate about the rapidly changing transborder energy market. Mexico’s new tapping of U.S. gas reserves has precipitated a frenzy of pipeline construction both in the United States and in Mexico. For the most part, the new U.S.-Mexico pipelines cross sparsely inhabited arid regions in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts. As such the massive construction projects have sparked little public reaction.

- Tom Barry

                               Photo of the Tarahumara Pipeline / FERMACA Pipeline