The Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) announced Friday that it will give tentative approval to a 60-mile natural gas pipeline along the Arizona – Mexico border. FERC’s draft environmental impact statement says that the pipeline would likely have adverse environmental impacts on nearly 1,000 acres of land in Southern Arizona, Law360 reports.
According to the report, the proposed pipeline would increase air and noise pollution during construction, and could “potentially jeopardize the existence of a federally protected species of cactus.” The land where the pipeline would be built also has a risk of seismicity and landslides.
In February, Sierrita Gas Pipeline LLC proposed to connect a natural gas line near Tucson, Arizona to another pipeline near the Mexican border. The 3-foot pipeline would cover 60.5 miles.
Still, FERC gave initial approval for the project after recommending several strategies it feels will help mitigate the environmental impacts. The FERC report also states that not building the pipeline could have worse environmental effects than building it may cause.
“This denial might result in greater reliance on alternative fossil fuels, such as coal or fuel oil, or both,” the report stated.
However, evidence that natural gas is not clean energy is consistently emerging. By now, most people have either heard about or witnessed the detrimental environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking – a process that involves pumping a cocktail of hundreds of toxic chemicals into the ground in order to break the rock and release “natural” gas.
Fracking has led to pollution of water tables, illness in humans and animals, and is now thought to contribute to earthquakes. Last week, the US Geological Survey (USGS) ruled out the possibility that a string of severe earthquakes in Oklahoma over the past decade could be a naturally-occurring phenomenon.
The USGS report suggests that “injection-induced seismicity,” or pumping fracking wastewater deep underground for storage, may be influencing the occurrence and severity of earthquakes, the Huffington Post reports. But scientists have long known that fluid-injection operations can trigger earthquakes.
In 2012, further evidence emerged in a study of the Barnett Shale in northern Texas. University of Texas at Arlington seismologist Cliff Frohlich found that the majority of 67 earthquakes in the area, many of which were not reported by the National Earthquake Information Center, were located near injection wells, suggesting injection-triggered earthquakes are more common than previously thought, according to LiveScience.
In September, the Wall Street Journal reported that US energy companies look to Mexico “as they struggle to find uses for the glut of natural gas that has depressed domestic prices for the fuel.” According to government data, pipelines are carrying twice as much natural gas to Mexico as they did in 2010, which has helped US gas exports reach their highest levels since 1973.
Mexico is functioning as a sort of “relief valve” for excess US natural gas, one expert told the WSJ. “The U.S. gas glut has spawned wide-ranging efforts to find new markets for the cheap fuel,” the Journal reports. This is highly beneficial to Mexico, whose industrial demand is “booming” and whose own output is diminishing.
Earlier this month, a report from Barclays Capital stated that US natural gas exports to Mexico will double in the next 3 years, enabled by “a massive expansion of the country’s pipeline network.”