"It has changed us and what we do," says agent Ricardo Aguirre of the Border Patrol.
In the handful of years since the Eagle Ford Shale took off, traffickers moving dope for the powerful Zetas and Gulf cartels have been using the development as subterfuge to move marijuana and other drugs.
Charles Goslin, a retired CIA officer now with the security services company Butchko, said agents who have already "got their hands full with the border and a handful of checkpoints on key arteries" in the region must now contend with these new opportunities for smugglers. "They are doing the best that they can, but it is a huge area," he said.
A draft 2014 "threat assessment" from a branch of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, a nationwide federal program that aids federal, state, and local agencies, goes like this: "[I]nfrastructure for drug trafficking organizations has ... unintentionally been enhanced."
But the influx of new development cuts both ways in fighting drug trafficking and other illicit activity.
Thousands of workers who have poured into the booming Eagle Ford Shale region are providing new eyes and ears — a "force multiplier," as one official says — for the border cops looking for drug and human smuggling.
Aguirre, a "ranch liaison" officer, is philosophical about the mix of problems and opportunities the drilling boom has created for agents trying to catch some of the drugs and undocumented immigrants coming from Mexico.
"It's sort of the yin to the yang, right?" he says while moving through the 50,000-acre Galvan Ranch, a single plot bigger than Washington, D.C., that's now dotted with energy-development sites.
"We have increased traffic here and there's increased people traversing through here and trying to get through," Aguirre says on a mild Wednesday morning in early May. "But by the same token we also have an increased number of eyes out there to report any illicit activities."
The collaboration with industry has taken several forms. There's an 800 number for oil-field workers to report sketchy behavior to the Border Patrol. Signs on ranches contain GPS data to help witnesses report their position. And authorities hold outreach meetings and presentations for industry on safety in the region.
The Border Patrol even has a catchy name for the work with the oil and gas industry: the "Integrated Frontline Resources Awareness Campaign," or iFRAC, which intentionally sounds like, yes, fracking.
"For us [the Eagle Ford boom] has brought certainly some opportunities for great partnerships," said Matthew Hudak, the division chief of operations for the Border Patrol's Laredo sector. But he's no Pollyanna: "It has also been a challenge in terms of just the overall growth and expansion within these areas."
Law enforcement identified the threat a few years ago and have made some notable busts. On the morning of November 25, 2013, agents found 5,616 pounds of marijuana (valued at nearly $4.5 million) hidden in a truck servicing industry development.