Category Archives: McAllen

Zetas gang threatens Mexico’s shale gas near border

September 26, 2012 at 12:25 am
by FuelFix.com

NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico — The brutal Zetas gang poses one of the most daunting challenges to the development of Mexico’s abundant shale gas reserves near the Texas border.

The gas fields extend from the booming Eagle Ford play of South Texas deep into the ranch and coal country stretching inland from this violent border city. This is Zetas country, among the most fearsome of Mexico’s criminal badlands.

U.S. and Mexican energy companies long have been besieged by the gangsters here – their workers assaulted, extorted or murdered – despite a heavy military and federal police presence. Now, with feuding Zetas factions bloodying one another and fending off outside rivals, what has been a bad situation threatens to get much worse.

Northern Mexico’s gas production has suffered for years as gangland threats or attacks have kept workers from servicing the wellheads, pipelines and drilling rigs in the Burgos Basin, the territory between the Rio Grande and the city of Monterrey, which now provides up to 20 percent of Mexico’s natural gas.

Petroleos Mexicanos has problems with security … principally in Burgos,” Guillermo Dominguez, a senior member of the National Hydrocarbons Commission, told the Mexico City newspaper Reforma.

And now the surging Zetas bloodletting pits the gang’s top bosses – Heriberto Lazcano and Miguel Angel Treviño – against Ivan Velazquez, a former underling known as “El Taliban.” From his base in the western state of Zaca­tecas, Velazquez reportedly has allied with the remnants of other gangs to launch a challenge for control of Coahuila state, which holds most of the shale gas reserves.

Challenge to control

Banners recently hung by both Zetas factions have accused one another of treason and other transgressions that will be avenged with death. Fighting has rattled Nuevo Laredo, the Zetas stronghold that also is the busiest land port for U.S.-Mexico trade, killing scores this month alone.

Still more banners appeared in Nuevo Laredo Tuesday, reputedly written by beleaguered civilians, promising all the gangster factions further bloody vengeance.

“Zetas are pretty much in control, but they have been challenged,” said a U.S. official in Mexico who monitors the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity. “You have all these groups fighting one another, shifting alliances and internal fights … It’s a wilderness of mirrors.”

The Zetas’ spats with rivals already have turned Coahuila’s other large cities – Torreon in the west, Monclova in the center and Saltillo in the east – into fierce gangland battlegrounds. State officials are blaming the Sept. 17 escape of 131 prisoners from a Piedras Negras prison on the Zetas seeking to replenish their ranks for new battles.

The insecurity in Mexico’s gas fields contrasts sharply with the drilling and production frenzy seizing the ranchlands just north of the border. Oil field pickups and semi-trailer fuel tankers choke Highway 83, the once-desolate ranch-country highway that cuts northwest from Laredo though the lower reaches of the Eagle Ford.

Some 6,000 drilling permits have been issued for Eagle Ford shale in Texas, and 550 wells are producing there. By comparison, Pemex so far has drilled five exploratory shale gas wells, but hopes to drill 170 more in the next four years. The company plans to spend $200 million on exploration in the short term.

Those first exploratory wells have been drilled to the west of Nuevo Laredo and below the border at Piedras Negras, ranch and coal country that remains relatively violence free for now. But that tranquility may owe more to the now-threatened dominance of the Zetas bosses than to rule of law.

“They are in control,” said a U.S. official. “They are pretty much just doing their thing.”

Workers disappearing

At least eight Pemex and contract employees vanished in May 2010 near a gas facility near Falcon Lake, territory under the Zetas’ firm control. Last March, two men working for a Mexican company doing contract work for Houston-based Halliburton disappeared outside Piedras Negras.

Halliburton spokeswoman Tara Mullee-Agard said employees get regular security briefings, but the company declined to comment on the contractors’ disappearance.

“Many companies that were active in the areas have stopped until Pemex or the government can provide security,” said an employee of one Reynosa-based company. “In places where there have been incidents we don’t operate anymore. When darkness falls, we stop wherever we are.

dudley.althaus@chron.com

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Mexico turns to Texas for relief during natural gas crisis

Posted on September 3, 2012 at 12:38 am
by FuelFix.com

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s national oil monopoly has been issuing critical alerts seemingly every week, warning of natural gas shortages lasting hours or even days and crimping supplies to homes, power plants and factories.

And yet, the country has some of the world’s largest natural gas reserves and easy access to a cheap and plentiful U.S. supply.

“There hasn’t been enough energy planning in this country,” said Raul Monteforte, a former senior official with Mexico’s Energy Regulatory Commission who’s now development director for Fermaca, a private Mexican transportation pipeline company. “Huge errors of omission have brought us a gas crisis.”

The gas squeeze will only worsen as many of Mexico’s new and existing electricity plants abandon coal and other fuels in favor of natural gas, gobbling up much of the available supply.

Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, as the monopoly is called, will prove unable to get much more of the gas produced in its own fields to market.

Amid renewed political pressure to further open Mexico’s energy industries to private interests, energy planners have launched a frenzied expansion of the country’s woeful pipeline system. As much as 3 billion additional cubic feet per day of U.S. natural gas, most of it from Texas, will feed the new grid.

Central Mexican cities have been the worst affected by the critical shortage, but even companies in Monterrey, the industrial powerhouse that abuts the sprawling Burgos Basin gas fields, have been slammed.

“Such obstacles can’t be permitted, even less so ones provoked by a state monopoly,” Caintra, a leading Monterrey business association, declared in a full-page newspaper ad. “We demand an immediate solution.”

Texas, Arizona lines

Using an offshore Pemex subsidiary supposedly free of Mexican congressional oversight and constitutional restrictions, planners are rushing to build two new U.S. pipelines – to the Arizona border south of Tucson and from near Corpus Christi to the Rio Grande – to push that U.S. gas deep into the Mexican heartland.

Officials say the new pipelines will be completed by the late summer 2014.

But Monteforte and other critics contend that plans for the lion’s share of the expansion – shipping South Texas gas into the Mexican heartland – will assure Pemex’s grip on gas consumers for decades to come.

“If it flies I think Mexico’s gas market will remain in the hands of Pemex,” said Monteforte in criticizing the Texas pipeline proposal.

His company is building and will own a 225-mile pipeline from the border at El Paso to near Chihuahua City, he said.

“This will kill the opening of the gas market we’ve fought for since the 1990s,” he said.

The new U.S. pipelines, being contracted by Pemex’s MGI gas trading firm, will connect to a privately owned system being built across northwestern Mexico and to the much larger Los Ramones duct that will run from near the border at McAllen deep into central Mexico.

Increasing imports

After sharp increases in the late 1980s and early ’90s, Mexico now imports some 15 percent of its natural gas supply from the United States, said Michelle Foss, program manager of the University of Texas’ Bureau of Economic Geology in Houston. By 2010, Mexico had increased its U.S. gas imports by 200 times what it did in the early 1980s.

Now, Mexico’s imports seem poised to spike again, perhaps bolstering prices for dry natural gas.

“Mexico will take all they can get and, as in the 1990s, could help to rebalance our market,” Foss said.

Project proposals for the South Texas pipeline – called the Agua Dulce to Frontera – were expected Monday. Pemex says the winning bid will be announced Sept. 18.

“For us it’s urgent to bring that gas,” said Guillermo Ortiz, a Mexico City executive who heads the energy committee at Canacintra, a leading Mexican industrial chamber. “They took a long time to contract for the pipelines. These types of situations are really hurting the consumers.”

dudley.althaus@chron.com

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