Day 2 of our on-going article excerpts. Stay tuned for more!
Water Scarcity Could Deter Energy Developers From Crossing Border Into Northern Mexico
by Keith Schneider
A Confrontation in Approaches
Such issues anchor the momentous and era-changing choices that the desert Mexican state of nearly 3 million residents faces. In large measure shale oil and gas drilling is a 20th century construct, a readily recognizable strategy to mass potentially enormous energy resources, intensive industrial infrastructure, and huge sums of financial capital to achieve heightened economic development. In short, drilling a lot of oil and gas wells, and building a transport and processing infrastructure, is a familiar formula for growth.
But is the plan for mammoth oil and gas development potentially reckless? How much of what’s envisioned in Coahuila is really possible in the challenging demographic, resource-scarce, and drying conditions of the 21st century? In other words, Coahuila closely resembles southern Mongolia, northern China, the American West, Australia, and southern Africa, where growing cities, agriculture, and energy development fiercely compete for resources, especially diminishing supplies of fresh water.
Giant sprinkler machines called ‘Pivote Central’ bring water to alfalfa fields in the Valle Hundido near Cuatro Cienegas. The wheels pivot around a center, connected to a well that supplies its water. The level of the aquifer that feeds these fields has dropped so much in the past decade that the surface water on the nearby lake Laguna Churince has completely disappeared. Residents are unsure which companies are behind the large alfalfa fields, but they speculate that they are related to large dairy farms near Torreón that use the alfalfa to feed their livestock. Officials estimate that there are more than 30 of these pivotes in the area.
The confrontation is so fraught with ecological urgency and climatic change that decades of entrenched regional economic policy and resource practices are shifting. Australia rewrote its water use statutes and spent billions of dollars to rebuild its irrigation network in the Murray-Darling Basin following a vicious 12-year drought. China shifted its major grain producing region to the wet Northeast and launched the world’s largest solar and wind energy sector to reduce water consumption in the drying Yellow River Basin. In the United States, a four-year drought prompted California to issue the first mandatory water restrictions in its history. The state also is much more closely overseeing water use and wastewater disposal in its oil industry, the nation’s third largest.
For the time being, the mega energy development paradigm prevails in Coahuila. Sometime later this year, or early in 2016, oil and gas companies could provide more insight into what they think is possible in the desert when Mexico opens bidding for oil and gas development rights to foreign companies. The new market is due to a change in Mexico’s Constitution in 2013, and new regulations in 2014, that made foreign investment possible in the country’s oil and gas sector.