Photographer: F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg

Undocumented Workers at Cheniere LNG Site in Louisiana Arrested

  • Those arrested were working for contractor Bechtel: company
  • News comes just as White House touts LNG as U.S. job creator

Fifteen undocumented immigrants contracted to work at America’s first shale gas-exporting terminal run by Cheniere Energy Inc. have been arrested.

The Justice Department said Tuesday that the 15 people arrested falsified documents to get jobs over the past three years at the liquefied natural gas complex that Cheniere’s expanding. They were working for Bechtel Corp., the closely held contractor said in a statement. Most of the undocumented immigrants are from Mexico, with two from Guatemala and one from Honduras, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Texas said.

The arrests come just as the Trump administration has begun touting LNG export terminals such as the ones Cheniere’s building in Louisiana and Texas as U.S. job creators. Two weeks ago, Energy Secretary Rick Perry praised an export terminal proposed in Texas by Exxon Mobil Corp. and Qatar Petroleum, saying it’ll create about 45,000 jobs during construction and position the U.S. as the “dominant exporter” of LNG to the world. Gary Cohn, the White House’s top economic advisor, said the U.S. is going to permit “more and more of these LNG plants.”

Houston-based Cheniere deferred comment to the Justice Department and Bechtel, citing an “ongoing investigation and enforcement action.” Bechtel said it follows federal guidelines to determine whether workers are eligible for employment in the U.S. and that it’s cooperating with authorities.

For more on how the U.S. shale boom is making the case for liquefied natural gas exports, read this QuickTake.

The workers were all hired by subcontractors that used offices in Port Arthur, Texas, to process applications, interview and verify employees, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in its statement. Some of those arrested last week had returned to the U.S. after previous encounters with immigration authorities. If convicted, defendants could face up to five years in federal prison, the agency said.

Cheniere fell as much as 3.1 percent on the news before recovering to close at $45.96 on Tuesday.

Cheniere estimated in a presentation last month that building liquefaction plants at its Louisiana and Texas terminals would take 78 million construction man-hours, representing about $7 billion in wages. At its peak, employment will reach around 7,500 people, Ed Lehotsky, senior vice president of engineering and construction for Cheniere, said during the presentation.

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