Mexico’s Standing Rock? Sempra, TransCanada Face Indigenous Pipeline Resistance South of Border

Lambert: Once again, the tribes are players.

By Steve Horn, a San Diego, CA-based Research Fellow for DeSmogBlog and a freelance investigative journalist. Originally published at DeSmogBlog.

Since Mexico privatized its oil and gas resources in 2013, border-crossing pipelines including those owned by Sempra Energy and TransCanada have come under intense scrutiny and legal challenges, particularly from Indigenous peoples.

Opening up the spigot for U.S. companies to sell oil and gas into Mexico was a top priority for the Obama State Department under Hillary Clinton.

Mexico is now facing its own Standing Rock-like moment as the Yaqui Tribe challenges Sempra Energy’s Agua Prieta pipeline between Arizona and the Mexican state of Senora. The Yaquis in the village of Loma de Bacum claim that the Mexican government has failed to consult with them adequately, as required by Mexican law.

Indigenous Consultations

Under Mexico’s new legal approach to energy, pipeline project permits require consultations with Indigenous peoples living along pipeline routes. (In addition, Mexico supported the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which includes the principle of “free, prior and informed consent” from Indigenous peoples on projects affecting them — something Canada currently is grappling with as well.)

It was a similar lack of indigenous consultation which the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said was the impetus for lawsuits and the months-long uprising against the Dakota Access pipeline near the tribe’s reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, in late 2016. Now, according to Bloomberg and Mexican reporter Gema Villela Valenzuela for the Spanish language publication Cimacnoticias, history is repeating itself in the village of Loma de Bacum in northwest Mexico.

Agua Prieta, slated to cross the Yaqui River, was given the OK by seven of eight Yaqui tribal communities. But the Yaquis based in Loma de Bacum have come out against the pipeline passing through their land, even going as far as chopping out a 25 foot section of pipe built across it.

“The Yaquis of Loma de Bacum say they were asked by community authorities in 2015 if they wanted a 9-mile tract of the pipeline running through their farmland — and said no. Construction went ahead anyway,” Bloomberg reported in a December 2017 story. “The project is now in a legal limbo. Ienova, the Sempra unit that operates the pipeline, is awaiting a judicial ruling that could allow them to go in and repair it — or require a costlier re-route.”

As the legal case plays out in the Supreme Court of Justice in Mexico, disagreements over the pipeline and its construction in Loma de Bacum have torn the community apart and even led to violence, according to Cimacnoticias.

Construction of the pipeline “has generated violence ranging from clashes between the community members themselves, to threats to Yaqui leaders and women of the same ethnic group, defenders of the Human Rights of indigenous peoples and of the land,” reported Cimacnoticias, according to a Spanish-to-English translation of its October 2016 story.

“They explained that there have been car fires and fights that have ended in homicide. Some women in the community have had to stay in places they consider safe, on the recommendation of the Yaquis authorities of the town of Bácum, because they have received threats after opposing signing the collective permit for the construction of the pipeline.”

TransCanada’s Troubles Cross Another Border

While best known for the Canada-to-U.S. Keystone XL pipeline and the years-long fight to build that proposed tar sands line, the Alberta-based TransCanada has also faced permitting issues in Mexico for its proposed U.S.-to-Mexico gas pipelines.

According to a December 2017 story published in Natural Gas Intelligence, TransCanada’s proposed Tuxpan-Tula pipeline is facing opposition from the indigenous Otomi community living in the Mexican state of Puebla. With Tuxpan-Tula, TransCanada hopes to send natural gas from Texas to Mexico via an underwater pipeline named the Sur de Texas-Tuxpan pipeline into the western part of the country.

The Otomi community recently won a successful bid in Mexican district court to stop construction of Tuxpan-Tula.

“At a recent hearing on an indoor soccer court at the foot of Cerro del Brujo, or Shaman’s Hill, in the southern Mexican state of Puebla, a district judge sided with an indigenous community and ordered construction” of the pipeline to halt, Natural Gas Intelligence reported. “[T]he court made the order in response to pleas from the local Otomi indigenous community, which claims that the construction would disturb sacred ground.”

Energy sector privatization in Mexico, decried by the country’s left-wing political parties and leading 2018 presidential contender Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has actually opened up the sort of legal opportunities that the Otomi have pursued in court.

“What is new in Mexico is the requirement that indigenous communities should be consulted,” Ramses Pech, CEO of the energy analysis group Caraiva y Asociados, told Natural Gas Intelligence. “That kind of consultation has long been a part of any project in the U.S. and other countries, but not so here. It was obviously needed in Mexico, too, but it has added to the complexities of the Mexican legal system in areas such as land and rights of way.”

In the U.S., the tribal consultation process is governed by the National Historic Preservation Act’s Section 106. That law gave the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe standing to sue U.S. government agencies, though ultimately unsuccessfully, for what the tribe alleged were violations which took place during the inter-agency permitting process.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. jfleni

    This could be the beginning of the end for the Gas-Monkey,
    Grease Monkey cabal, especially now when renewable electricity is almost too cheap to measure, and getting more so!

    Yay tribes! Way to go! And thanks from the rest of us, awaiting the incredible heat to come!

  2. Joel

    Can someone more knowledgeable than me please explain something?

    The author claims that “Mexican oil and gas” were privatized and links to a 2014 article that I think was about *plans* to privatize, but that article is apparently no longer online or the link is broken.

    I had thought that the privatization of Pemex, the massive state fossil fuels monopoly, fell through along with the collapse of fossil fuel prices. The Pemex Wikipedia pages in English and Spanish both say Pemex is state-owned.

    I know there has been some opening of the industry to other firms, and for the first time ever one can see gas stations other than those of Pemex in Mexico. But Pemex remains the 3000-lb gorilla and it seems it is still state-owned.

    I don’t think this is just a quibble. I am genuinely curious about the state of Pemex since it’s been up in the air for so long, and also I think it affects the story a lot if one of the major actors in the drama is state-owned. More generally I wish the activist media were more careful with points of fact.

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