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Natural gas company considering new West Texas-Mexico pipeline

A map of the project’s potential route through West Texas, as outlined in a federal permit application.
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
A map of the project’s potential route through West Texas, as outlined in a federal permit application.

ONEOK is eyeing potential plans for a major new pipeline designed to carry natural gas exports from the Permian Basin to Mexico through parts of Far West Texas, though the company said it hasn’t made a “final investment decision” on the plan yet.

Tulsa-based pipeline company ONEOK is considering building a major new natural gas line through parts of West Texas, designed to export gas from the region to Mexico and then to markets around the world.

The company in December announced tentative plans for what it has dubbed the Saguaro Connector Pipeline – a 155-mile, 48-inch diameter line that would run from a gas gathering hub in Pecos County to the border in Hudspeth County, passing through Reeves, Jeff Davis and Culberson counties along the way.

The company cautioned that while it had already applied for a federal permit for the stretch of pipeline that would cross the Rio Grande, it had not yet made a “final investment decision” on the rest of the project. That decision could come by the middle of this year, ONEOK spokesperson Brad Borror said.

The project echoes the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, which was built through the Big Bend region in 2016 and 2017, prompting heated protests, opposition from local landowners and even legal action by opponents.

The Saguaro Connector Pipeline would be a similarly sized project also designed to move natural gas from the Waha Hub in Pecos County to Mexico. From there, the gas would travel through a pipeline on the Mexican side of the border “for delivery to an export facility on the West Coast of Mexico,” ONEOK said in a press release announcing the project.

A number of such pipelines have been constructed in West Texas in recent years, including the Comanche Trail Pipeline, which was built around the same time as the Trans-Pecos line but followed a route along Interstate 10 to El Paso.

Documents included in ONEOK’s permit application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission show the new pipeline would cross the border near the historic Indian Hot Springs area south of Sierra Blanca.

The pipeline’s tentative route would also bring it within a few miles of Balmorhea State Park, though a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spokesperson said officials are not currently anticipating any impacts to the park.

“It does not appear the pipeline, as proposed, would go through Balmorhea. It is eight miles north of the park,” said TPWD spokesperson Stephanie Garcia. “Staff have not been in talks either regarding an easement for any of our properties.”

Asked whether the company has been in touch with the parks department about the plan, ONEOK spokesperson Brad Borror said “development of the potential project is ongoing.”

“We will coordinate with all applicable agencies at the appropriate time,” he said.

Federal regulators are set to review the potential environmental impacts of the project’s border crossing as part of the FERC permit application process, but most of the pipeline’s length would only be subject to state-level reviews by the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that regulates fossil fuels.

The FERC has set a Jan. 26 deadline for members of the public to file protests or formal comments on the company’s border permit application.

Earlier this month, the advocacy group Public Citizen filed a “motion to intervene” in the federal regulatory proceedings. The non-profit has challenged other natural gas export projects in Texas and Florida.

Tyson Slocum, an advocate with Public Citizen, said the group plans to argue that the Saguaro Connector Pipeline — the part under federal jurisdiction, at least — should be subject to strict regulatory reviews because the project would not benefit American consumers.

“Maybe landowners in your area might not think that moving U.S.-produced gas to China is in the public interest,” he said.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.