Federal authorities have failed to protect pipeline rights-of-way from becoming pathways for illegal immigration and cartel activity that endangers pipeline inspectors, oilfield workers and ranchers, a top state regulator charged Friday.
Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter sent a letter Friday to U.S. Customs and Border Protection following recent reports that pipeline easements have become a corridor of choice for smugglers and their clients.
Porter conducted an internal inquiry after hearing from pipeline inspectors who expressed worry about their safety in the field, Porter spokeswoman Mary Bell said in an interview with Fuel Fix.
She said she isn’t aware of any staff threatened by smugglers, but that inspectors report being been warned by law enforcement about particularly dangerous areas and cautioned to remove decals from their vehicles so they aren’t mistaken for officers.
Porter wrote in his letter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske that the Railroad Commission “has dozens of inspectors and field staff in the South Texas area whose lives are put in danger on a regular basis each time their job calls them to perform duties in areas made unsafe by cartel activity.”
Porter argued that Border Patrol has become overwhelmed by an influx of immigrant children and asked the agency to detail the steps it has taken to secure Texas’ pipeline infrastructure.
The federal agency could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
Bell said Porter is scheduling site visits to South Texas to determine what action, if any, the commission should take. The three-member Railroad Commissioner regulates oil and gas activity in the state.
Because pipeline companies keep the easements clear of brush for maintenance, they make an easy path through South Texas’ thorny mesquite thickets. They also help travelers stay on course to pickup locations north of the checkpoints.
In his letter, Porter also expressed concerns that undocumented immigrants following pipeline corridors through South Texas could harbor nefarious intentions. Beyond the Mexican drug cartels hired to guide immigrants through the brush, Porter fretted that terrorist organizations could exploit the routes and potentially do harm to the state’s pipeline infrastructure.
“The oil and gas industry makes up more than a third of the Texas economy,” Porter said in a statement. “If we don’t have stronger border security in these energy producing areas, they will become too dangerous to occupy, and oil and gas production will come to a halt in one of the most productive areas of the country.”
On Thursday, Gov. Rick Perry said that terrorists may have crossed into the United States via the southern border, but acknowledged he had no evidence of it.