Eagle Ford Revisited

It is easy to dismiss the chronic issue of human and drug smuggling in the Eagle Ford Shale Play as “the way it has always been in this part of Texas,” throw up a game fence, and get on with operations. This is a very shortsighted, naïve approach to the issue that does not take into account how much things have changed in the region. Bluntly put, it’s not your grandfather – or even your father’s – Southwest Texas anymore.

The Mexican cartels and criminal gangs exploiting the lucrative “plaza” through Nuevo Laredo into the U.S. are actively focusing their operations through Eagle Ford for two main reasons. First, due to the natural cover the region offers to industrial-scale transshipment of narcotics, contraband, and humans into the U.S.  And second, because a critical line of defense on the U.S. side, the U.S. Border Patrol, is increasingly tied up by Latin America’s calculated effort to flood the border with illegal immigrants.

The surge in illegal immigration in South Texas began around the fall of 2012.  It is presenting unexpected consequences for oil & gas security in the already vulnerable Eagle Ford Shale Play.  U.S. Border Patrol is a crucial layer of effective security embedded in the area. However, the unanticipated flood of migrants across the border, particularly young unaccompanied minors, has effectively shunted Border Patrol and other law enforcement in the area to administrative “babysitting” duties, that in turn has a negative ripple effect on security in the region. Criminal smuggling operations have their own intelligence networks and know full well the advantage this gives them. The ease with which they can circumvent Border Patrol checkpoints by taking advantage of improved access roads through ranchland and cleared wellhead sites, has been significantly augmented by the thinning ranks of Border Patrol in the area. The challenges to private security remain high, due to increased transnational criminal organization (TCO) exploitation of Eagle Ford’s shale gas boom. Butchko examines in more detail how smuggling works in this vulnerable area of Southwest Texas and the challenges facing both public and private security in the region.