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Natural gas exports from U.S. to Mexico skyrocket

A Sempra natural gas pipeline crosses the U.S.-Mexico border near the Otay Mesa community in San Diego, California. Homes in the background are in Mexico. Megan Wood/inewsource

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As the U.S. re-examines its trade relationship with Mexico, some in Mexico are doing the same – questioning reliance on trade with the north. One focus is natural gas. Pipelines now carry a record-setting amount of that fuel south across the border.

The amount of natural gas flowing to Mexico quadrupled in recent years. And it’s still increasing — fast. By 2019, the U.S. pipeline export capacity to Mexico is projected to almost double, according to Victoria Zaretskaya, a natural gas expert with the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Most of the gas is coming from Texas.

“This is an unprecedented expansion of U.S. export pipeline capacity that we have never seen before,” she said.

Mexico is soaking up all this U.S. natural gas because it realized burning coal, oil and diesel to make electricity was expensive, dirty and released a lot of carbon. The timing was right.

“That was about the same time the U.S. shale revolution was unleashing enormous amounts of oil and gas in the United States,” said Jeremy Martin at the Institute of the Americas at the University of California, San Diego.

So Mexico is switching to cleaner energy at some really good prices. Sixty percent of the natural gas it uses now is imported. But with trade relations between the two countries less steady, Martin and others say some in Mexico are re-examining that plan.

“There are those who are saying ‘Well, we made this bet to switch our power generation,’ who are starting to wonder if that is something they should be concerned about,” said Martin.

At the energy consulting firm Zumma in Mexico City, Jonathan Pinzón agrees:

“Definitely, there is a level of worry. In some government and industry circles, they are discussing alternatives, whether gas can be brought from other regions,” Pinzón said.

But at the same time, on the U.S. side of the border, Pinzón said the Trump administration has little incentive to change because U.S. drilling and pipeline companies benefit from this trade.

“I think it would be political suicide for the current administration to put any restriction on that gas moving to Mexico,” he said.

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