Water from the Monterrey VI mega water pipeline could be used for shale gas extraction, even though this is not the purpose for which it was designed, Nuevo Leon State Governor Rodrigo Medina de la Cruz said last week.
He said the $1.03 billion USD pipeline, which will stretch 520 kilometers and provide 6 cubic meters of water per second, was initially conceived as a way to provide water first for human consumption, then for industry, and the National Water Commission (Conagua) issued permits on that basis.
Use of the water for shale gas extraction had not been analyzed, but is now being studied, Medina de la Cruz said. He said there was no prohibition on the water being used for hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," but added that the state government had not discussed the issue with Conagua or the federal government.
The governor said researchers and national petroleum company Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) were currently analyzing the risk that shale gas extraction could cause earthquakes in the state.
A report issued by the state's Ministry of Economic Development said a plan to use water from the pipeline to obtain shale gas in the Burgos Basin was under consideration.
Reports from the Nuevo Leon government forecast that the region will face a severe water deficit in 2015. This is one of the reasons that Conagua approved the pipeline.
Activist Claudia Campero, of the Blue Planet Project, an organization that is part of the Mexico Alliance Against Fracking, said it was illogical to use fracking -- a technique that requires up to 29 million liters of water per well -- in an area like Nuevo León, which suffers from persistent drought.
National Action Party (PAN) legislators have complained that the Nuevo Leon government lied about using the water for fracking when they sought approval for the pipeline project. They called on the government to find other methods to extract shale gas to avoid using Monterrey VI's water.
"It is very unfortunate and unfair that the state government has had to resort to lies to obtain approval of a project as controversial as the Monterrey VI,” said Nuevo Leon PAN deputy Francisco Treviño. “The director of Water and Drainage of Monterrey has been in the State Congress at least three times, and has always justified the construction of the pipeline for drought, for population growth, [and] to guarantee water for human consumption for the next 50 years, but he has never told us it was for the extraction of shale gas.”
Meanwhile, in Chihuahua state, PAN Senator Javier Corral is heading a movement to oppose fracking, and is preparing a forum to analyze the risks involved in the technique.
Coahuila state, which borders Nuevo Leon to the west, is currently carrying out studies on shale gas extraction, said State Economic Development Minister Antonio Gutiérrez Jardón, who emphasized that the studies themselves carried no risk.
And during a conference on oil and mining in Mexico, environmental groups warned of water pollution from fracking in Tamaulipas state which borders Nuevo Leon to the northeast.
"The water will be contaminated. It will not be usable for human or agricultural consumption. If it must be discharged into containment pools or injected in the subsoil, there will be risks of contamination of aquifers," said Juan Alberto Hernández Arreola of the Broad Environmental Front.
Mexico approved energy reforms in late 2013 that approve the use of fracking to extract shale gas. Secondary laws related to fracking are still pending approval, however.
The Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program, Achim Steiner, said he considered Mexico's energy laws "contradictory," as they intensify the exploitation of fossil fuel reserves while at the same time seeking to combat climate change.
Speaking at a press conference during the 19th Meeting of the Forum of Ministers of Environment for Latin America and the Caribbean last week, Steiner said Mexico should revise its policy of subsidies, avoid consuming more fossil fuels and seek a transition to renewable energy.
Critics have also claimed that Conagua is seeking to change national water legislation to favor privately funded megaprojects and shale gas extraction, according to a report published last week by La Jornada newspaper.
As part of the changes under article four of the Mexican Constitution, which guarantees the human right to water, Conagua is sending a legislative initiative for a general water law to the Chamber of Deputies for approval on World Water Day (March 22).
Miguel Ángel Montoya, an adviser for the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), said Conagua’s proposal will perpetuate the problem of over-exploitation of water resources, since it de-emphasizes the need for a profound change in how water is managed.
Elena Burns of the Centli Center for Sustainability of the Metropolitan Autonomous University agreed, noting that the existing National Water Law, which has been in force since 1992, promotes intensive water use, including overexploitation of at least 130 aquifers, and concentration of water rights to favor real estate developers and other businesses.
In addition, she said the general council that is supposed to ensure the human right to water in the country would include representatives from the Mexican National Association of Water and Sanitation Companies (ANEAS) and the Confederation of Chambers of Industry (CONCAMIN). ANEAS and CONCAMIN have both championed privatization, and have benefitted from the “plunder” model of water use, according to Burns.
Burns also said that the proposed general water law included provisions for exploitation of shale gas using fracking.