MONTERREY, Mexico – Mexico expects to create half a million direct and indirect new jobs in the energy sector over the next four years, those attending the U.S.-Mexico Border Energy Forum heard on Thursday.

Of these, 135,000 will be professional and technical, said Leonardo Beltrán Rodríguez, deputy secretary for energy planning and transition in the Secretary of Energy’s Office. Interviewed by the Guardian after his speech, Beltrán said South Texas colleges and universities can play a key role in training workers for the energy section, including shale extraction from the Burgos Basin of northern Mexico.

“We are projecting half a million new energy sector jobs from here to 2018. There will be 135,000 professional and technical jobs and 365,000 indirect jobs. It is quite amazing,” Beltrán told the Guardian.

Beltrán said that as recently as last week he and others presented the strategic program for talent development for the energy sector.

“We are working with the National Science and Technology Council (CONACYT) and the Ministry of Education along with the productive enterprises of the state, Pemex and CFE (Comisión Federal de Electricidad) to precisely design a program that will strengthen the talent development market in Mexico. We will provide part of the funding to make sure we have a trained, skilled labor force and the participation of the private sector is instrumental in achieving this target.”

Leonardo Beltrán Rodríguez, Mexico's deputy secretary for energy planning and transition, speaks at the 21st Annual U.S.-Mexico Border Energy Forum.
Leonardo Beltrán Rodríguez, Mexico’s deputy secretary for energy planning and transition, speaks at the 21st Annual U.S.-Mexico Border Energy Forum.

Asked if higher education institutions in South Texas could help, Beltrán said: “Absolutely.” He referenced the Bilateral Forum of Higher Education, Innovation and Research (FOBESII) agreed by Presidents Obama and Peña Nieto in Mexico City in May 2013.

“The two presidents agreed that we would have 100,000 Mexican students being educated in the United States and 50,000 U.S. students being educated in Mexico. That is the target. In the energy sector we are starting to develop agreements with California and Texas and Massachusetts. Anyone interested should contact the National Science and Technology Council and ourselves because we need workers for the energy sector.”

The two-day U.S.-Mexico Border Energy Forum is being held at the InterContinental Presidente Hotel in Monterrey. While day one of the event was unfolding, South Texas College and Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León (UANL) coincidentally were signing a general academic collaboration agreement in McAllen. Mario Reyna, dean of business at STC, has been working on the development of a number of Memorandum of Understanding agreements with Mexican colleges and universities in order to train workers for the energy sector.

The U.S.-Mexico Border Energy Forum is now in its 21st year. The location for the annual event rotates between the ten border states. It was founded and is still sponsored by the Texas General Land Office.

In his speech, GLO Commission Jerry Patterson gave an example of increased energy cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico. He said that about ten days ago there were rolling brownouts in the Rio Grande Valley. To overcome these, Patterson said, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) purchased electricity from Mexico. “You saved our bacon,” Patterson told Mexican energy producers in the audience. “It meant consumers did not lose service.”

Interviewed by the Guardian after his speech, Patterson said there needs to be more energy connections between Texas and Mexico. “We need more cross-border DC (direct current) ties. The company that works with the Land Office on our electric program is Cavallo Energy. They are interested in doing more cross-border DC ties. This only one. There is probably room for four or five companies that could do that.”

By way of an example, Patterson pointed to Monterrey. “There is not enough electricity here in Monterrey and it is expensive. As Mexico transitions off of fuel oil and onto natural gas, which is cheaper and more environmentally friendly, Texas can help fill the void. Mexico generation can be a backup when we have a problem and vice versa.”

Patterson is leaving his post at the end of the year. In both his speech and his interview with the Guardian, Patterson said he planned to stay active in the energy arena.

“I plan to do whatever I can to make folks in Texas and the U.S. understand that we need to be very supportive of the bold, risky step that Mexico is taking. It is unusual for politicians to stick their neck out like the politicians in Mexico have done and they should be commended for that leadership,” Patterson said.

“Mexico’s energy reforms have the potential to better our lot in Texas. They have the potential to reduce the immigration and border security issues that are in the news every single day. If you can produce good jobs for Mexicans in Mexico, that is good news for Mexico, that is good for Texas.”

Patterson added that Texas stands ready to help Mexico as it ramps up energy exploration and production.

“Mexico is about to be in the business that we have been in for 100 years, managing state-owned minerals by allowing a company to explore and produce and have a royalty interest. We have been doing that. We will be happy to provide our lease forms, the standard leases we use for contracting with the companies. We want to help. Take our lease forms, change it, modify it, plagiarize it, whatever you want to do, let’s get it done,” Patterson told the Guardian.

In her remarks at the energy forum, Maria Elena Giner, general manager of Border Environment Cooperation Commission, said border states stand to benefit most from the deregulation of Mexico’s energy industry. She later explained to the Guardian her thinking.

“The six border states in Mexico constitute about 17 percent of the population and a third of Mexico’s greenhouse gas emissions come from these states. That is directly related to energy consumption. But, with energy consumption come energy opportunities. In my opinion, energy is going to be a central part of what is being done along the border, especially as a reduction of greenhouse gases by 50 percent by 2050 is envisaged for the country. The six border states in Mexico are going to play an important role in what is going to be the water nexus, the energy competitive nexus and the energy and sustainable development nexus,” Giner said.

Giner told the Guardian that energy is not something border residents need to be afraid of. “It is very much a need for economic competitiveness. As countries get wealthier they get more environmentally responsible. For me we need to embrace this opportunity and combine it with environmental initiatives to achieve what I hope is a resilient and sustainable society.”

Giner added that in the last 24 months the BECC has certified and financed 1,400 megawatts of renewable energy in solar and wind. She highlighted a 54 megawatt solar wind project in Tamaulipas. “We have seen the benefits that have come to the ejidos, the farmers. We have created a good reputation for ourselves with this project. Since then we have had two more energy projects certified another six are in the pipeline.”