Natural gas boom opens new roads for drug cartels in Texas

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Angelica Malik Contributor
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New heavy duty access roads along Texas’ border with Mexico are making it easier for energy companies to drill for natural gas. The roads, however, are also making it easier for drugs smugglers to avoid Border Patrol highway checkpoints, the Houston Chronicle reports.

The new routes provide access to areas containing Eagle Ford Shale, which is rich in oil and natural gas, and are critical for companies moving heavy drilling supplies in and out of the ranchlands where the drilling is taking place.

The Chronicle reports that outlaws may corrupt truck drivers, contractors and gate personnel by offering up to $20,000 in bribes. Authorities also suspect drug smugglers may be trying to replicate or steal trucks used by energy contractors to avoid detection.

“They are using those roads to transport drugs, guns, ammo, you name it,” said Albert DeLeon, chief deputy of the Dimmit County sheriff’s office.

The South Texas High Intensity Drug Traffic Area sent an assessment to the Office of National Drug Control Policy at the White House in June, warning of the threat posed when individuals are able to bypass security checkpoints.

Earlier this year smugglers were busted with 18,665 pounds of marijuana aboard two trucks. They were driving on a private road leased to energy companies that circumvents a Border Patrol checkpoint.

One way of stopping smugglers is turning energy company employees into informants.

“They are our eyes and ears out there,” said Border Patrol agent Robert Fuentes. “They are in the middle of no place.”

“Once they get past the checkpoints, they are pretty much free,” said Javier Pena, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Houston division. “We have been gearing up for it,” he added.

Despite the possibility of drug smugglers profiting from the remote roads, many Texans couldn’t be happier with the economic prosperity the natural resource boom has brought with it.

“It has been incredible, hundreds of jobs have been created,” said Webb County Judge Danny Valdez.

The shale oil and gas boom brought $25 billion in economic output and over 47,000 full-time jobs to the region last year, according to a study by the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Institute for Economic Development.

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Angelica Malik