U.S.-Mexico collaboration seen necessary on Eagle Ford drilling

The vast oil buried in the Eagle Ford shale rock formation in south Texas doesn’t end at the Rio Grande — so the U.S. must work with Mexico on accessing the reserves on both sides of the border, a top Obama administration official said Thursday.

“Those rocks don’t know borders,” said Christopher Smith, the acting assistant secretary for fossil energy, during a presentation at the Offshore Technology Conference. “That trend is going to extend right down to Mexico.”

Oil companies have been using hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies to unlock crude from the dense rock formation in Texas. As activity begins to access the same reserve south of the border, Smith said it’s important for U.S. and Mexico officials to talk about best practices.

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“We are very interested in working with our colleagues in the government of Mexico to put in pathways for the better development of that resource,” Smith said. “We are taking steps to create the right types of collaboration to ensure we develop that play in a way that is efficient” and environmentally sound.

Separately, American and Mexican drilling regulators have talked about standards for offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, since an oil spill in one part of that water body could affect both countries. Smith’s comments hinted at similar collaboration on onshore development along the border region.

“We’ve got a level of collaboration with our neighbors to the north and the south that we see as being unquestionably positive,” Smith said.

The Energy Department ‘s role generally isn’t in regulating drilling but in fostering and coordinating federally funded research.

Following the Deepwater Horizon disaster — and as sequestration forces officials to pare spending across the federal government — the Energy Department is more closely focusing its research dollars on environment and sustainability issues.

The Energy Department also is formalizing its relationship with the chief offshore drilling overseer, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, to ensure that “the research and development we do is consistent with the challenges that the regulators have,” Smith said.