In South Texas, gas companies are building hundreds of miles of uncharted private backroads that inadvertently provide a “pipeline to America for drug traffickers.” The Houston Chronicle reports that previously inaccessible ranchlands are now traversable, allowing drug-stocked vehicles to pass Border Patrol checkpoints that “have long been the last line of defense for stopping all traffic headed farther into the United States.”
Traffickers are taking advantage the gigantic Eagle Ford shale formation, which runs from Mexico to East Texas. In the southwest portion of Eagle Ford, traffickers are sending millions of dollars worth of drugs into the United States along these private energy roads by bribing truck drivers, gate personnel, and seemingly make clone copies of gas trucks to avoid suspicion among fleets of energy trucks using the roads. Authorities have also found stolen energy trucks used by smugglers.
In March, Border Patrol intercepted 18,665 pounds of marijuana on two bogus oil trucks travelling on private gas industry roads. One of the trucks was driven by an apparently bribed energy employee, and the other appeared to be a fake truck driven by a drug trafficker. Law enforcement fears there are many more such trucks carrying illegal materials across the border on these private roads. Tony Garcia, director of the South Texas High Intensity Drug Traffic Area, a law-enforcement coalition, is very concerned about the problem. He told the Houston Chronicle:
“Our biggest concern is how law enforcement is going to attack the threat. We cannot move Border Patrol checkpoints into those positions. It is pretty much up to your imagination what they could be moving through there. … It is a bit of a dicey situation for us to deal with.”
Border patrol agents are working to educate energy companies about potential encounters with drug traffickers. But there is a limited amount drug enforcement officials, who can’t set up new checkpoints and are already strapped for resources, can do to stop the problem. Javier Pena, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Houston division, warned, “Once they get past the checkpoints, they are pretty much free.”