Proposed gas terminal fuels Mexican protests

Sunday, May 26, 2002

ROSARITO, Mexico -- It's the biggest thing to hit Rosarito since the invention of Spring Break: a proposed $400 million terminal to import natural gas and distribute it in the energy-hungry U.S.-Mexico border region.

But this beach town 20 miles south of the border isn't exactly welcoming what would be the largest private investment project in its history.

Instead, the plan to bring in natural gas from Southeast Asia is leading to boisterous street demonstrations and complaints about safety and the potential harm to tourism, the mainstay for this city of 100,000. It's also contributing to concern that global energy companies want to use northern Mexico as a backdoor into the U.S.-energy market.

"We need the money. Mexico needs the money," said Eduardo Orozco, who sells hand-crafted furniture to tourists at his shop on Rosarito's dusty main street. "But because we need it doesn't mean that you can come down here and do whatever you want."

The Rosarito terminal is one of at least four natural gas terminals proposed by some of the world's largest energy companies for the Baja California coast. Combined, the projects would transform the region into a major supplier of natural gas for power plants and industrial users in northern Mexico and California.

Preserving image

In the minds of many in Rosarito, the promise of dozens of permanent jobs and a flush of spending in the local economy hasn't outweighed concerns about potential harm to the environment and the image of a town best known for the revelries of college students on Spring Break.

So far, there's enough opposition that Rosarito's mayor says he might block the land-use permit required to develop the natural gas terminal.

"I think it's going to be very difficult to convince people this is a good project," Mayor Luis Enrique Diaz said.

Phillips Petroleum Co. and El Paso Corp. have met with community groups to sell the concept. They downplay opposition and plan to open in 2005.

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