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Sempra Energy's Unfinished Mexican Business: Pipeline Cutoff by Tribe’s Protest

Bypassing more conventional ways to stop a pipeline, members of an indigenous Yaqui tribe have taken a 25-foot segment out of a new natural gas pipeline running north to south through the Mexican state of Sonora.

The estimated $400 million project is the Guaymas-El Oro segment of the 500-mile Sonora pipeline, put in service this year by Sempra Energy's Mexican subsidiary Infraestructura Energética Nova SAB de CV (IEnova).* The company also built and operates the upstream Sasabe-Guaymas segment of the Sonora system.

The pipeline designed to serve the Mexican West Coast is sitting in legal limbo as one year ends only to start a new one with still more new energy infrastructure projects sprouting up south of the border.

IEnova is awaiting a court ruling that will allow its workers to go onsite to either repair the vandalism that took out a chunk of the pipeline or to reroute it. A San Diego-based spokeswoman for Sempra's Mexican operations told NGI on Tuesday that IEnova won’t comment on the situation.

Nevertheless, the protesting Yaquis are talking to local news media and posing for photographers in front of the pipe section they commandeered. The particular Yaqui tribe is the only one of eight separate Yaqui communities which is opposing the pipeline.

Sempra's operations south of the border are just one of several that have encountered similar resistance from some part of the various indigenous groups with which Mexico's ongoing energy reform processes require consultation.

IEnova won the bid to build the Guaymas-El Oro pipeline segment through the Sonoran region that historically has been home to a series of eight 17th Century Jesuit missions, each spawning a Yaqui sub-community within the greater tribe. Seven of the eight approved the new pipeline, but one group in Loma de Bacum dissented.

While the U.S. and Canadian energy project sponsors have long dealt with requirements for consultation with indigenous peoples, similar requirements now in place in Mexico because of the infrastructure building boom, are very new and somewhat uncharted waters for contractors.

The Guaymas-El Oro pipeline is one of four in Mexico that IEnova pointed to last summer as  boosting its profits this year. Company officials characterized at least a portion of the Sonora line as running at full capacity last summer prior to the protest puncture of the pipeline.

Stay up to date as Mexico continues to deregulate the country’s natural gas and oil industry. Check out NGI’s 2018 Map of Mexico’s Emerging Natural Gas Infrastructure, which features the location of 40 pipelines, 24 proposed pipelines, seven existing and proposed LNG terminals, 22 border import/export points, and much, much more.

*Correction: In the original article, NGI misidentified Ojinaga-El Encino as the Sempra Energy pipeline damaged by members of a Yaqui indigenous tribe in northeast Mexico, and incorrectly stated that the project was stalled as a result of the dispute. In fact, it is the Guaymas-El Oro pipeline in Sonora state that was damaged by the tribe, which opposes the project. Moreover, Sempra’s Mexican subsidiary has reported that Guaymas-El Oro and Ojinaga-El Encino both went in service earlier this year. NGI regrets the error.

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