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Mexican army takes control of refineries to fight rampant fuel theft

By Renzo Pipoli
Mexican army takes control of refineries to fight rampant fuel theft
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador during his daily press conference, in Mexico City, as he discussed efforts to end rampant fuel theft at the country's state oil company Pemex. Photo by Sashenka Gutierrez/EPA-EFE

Dec. 28 (UPI) -- The Mexican army took control of state oil company Pemex refineries where some unionized workers were preventing access to strategic areas.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said that at his request 4,000 military personnel from the army and navy police took control of 58 Pemex dependencies to help fight fuel theft after unionized workers "were blocking access to Pemex own authorities," Excelsior newspaper reported Thursday.

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"We simply told union leaders that Pemex, and not just Pemex but the federal government, and the army, were going to protect strategic installations, as we are now doing," President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Thursday in a conference, Excelsior said.

Lopez Obrador said that the unionized workers were preventing control of key areas, including that of monitoring of pressure levels in fuel pipelines. This had allowed corrupt Pemex officials to participate in fuel theft.

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By not properly closing valves, they allowed fuel to flow through some pipelines, making it possible for theft to occur. In addition, corruption related to truck transportation was also detected, he added.

Lopez Obrador said that theft by making openings in pipelines to extract the fuel may be only 20 percent of the problem, with fuel truck transportation also playing a big role.

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As many as 1,145 fuel loaded trucks, daily, are part of the fuel theft problem which indicates that there is an entire corruption network involved also in distribution, with authorities participation, that now needs to be tackled through coordinated work at different government levels, he added.

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Televisa, the online channel of a Mexican television media, cited the new CEO of Pemex, Octavio Romero Oropeza, saying that just by detecting corruption in the logistics deparment and removing some personnel, fuel theft was slashed to a loss of 19,000 barrels per day on December 25, down from 43,000 barrels per day on December 21.

According to a report by MIlenio, three officials had been allowing fuel to flow and be stolen, by not closing valves properly, citing Alejandro Gertz, the country state attorney. Prosecution efforts have started, he said.

With all the money lost in fuel theft in recent years, Mexico could have built new refineries, Lopez Obrador said.

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Lopez Obrador announced on Dec. 10 plans to build and upgrade refineries, as well as to increase production of crude oil. Both have sharply declined in recent years.

Lopez Obrador's government, which started on December 1 and is set to last six years, is also making efforts to increase the participation of the country's government in the hydrocarbon industry. He has cited sharp and steady declines in oil and fuel production in past years parallel with attempts by the country's previous government to open the energy industry to private investors.

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