Jan. 7 (UPI) -- Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador dispatched military personnel to oversee pipelines that will be gradually reconnected Monday to normalize fuel distribution, which was hindered by fuel theft prevention.
"Today we'll reinforce the surveillance by the military in Pemex installations, and we will continue it. We will normalize supply and guarantee fuel theft will stop," Lopez Obrador said Monday in a press conference.
He said 900 military members entered Pemex installations on Monday, and the plan for the total operation involves some 4,000 military and police forces. He acknowledged there were shortages in several regions because of the closing of pipeline valves in recent days, but that the situation is normalizing because the use of fuel trucks was increased.
Theft in fuel tracks has declined to only 10 percent of what it was before his government took over Pemex, with an estimated 100 truckloads stolen daily. The government in recent days focused efforts on fuel theft through pipeline leaks, and this is why valves were shut.
"We are moving forward and there has been resistance but we are confronting it," Lopez Obrador said.
The government is fighting to control a "parallel network" of fuel distribution. The first step to take over control of the monitoring system of diesel and gasoline pipelines in late December was crucial, but it did create the logistics problem, he explained.
"We have enough gasoline. There is not a problem with fuel supplies. We are just being careful in the distribution. We are opening the pipelines with care, when we have surveillance," he said.
He said a big part of the problem was higher ranking officials at Pemex were involved in fuel theft, providing "a bad example" for workers. Personnel operating "in a floor of the Pemex tower" kept pipelines open even after seeing that there was theft going on but that has changed, he added.
The program to control fuel theft will also contemplate granting credits and help with study scholarships, so as to provide legal alternatives to the population that has lived during years from working with stolen fuel in an informal economy.
Pemex said over the weekend that due to logistic changes linked to theft control there were delays that affected mostly the states of Hildado, Mexico, Jalisco, Michoacan, Guanajuato and Queretaro.
A report Monday in El Financiero said in the first eleven months of 2018, Pemex spent $27.6 billion in oil products imports, with gasoline accounting for two-thirds. Most imports come from the United States.
Lopez Obrador, who took over the government on Dec. 1, announced last month his plan to include the army in theft control at Pemex.
Mexican officials said then fuel theft on Dec. 21 was estimated at 43,000 barrels per day, and reduced to 19,000 per day on Dec. 25 after some valves were closed down.
Fuel thieves in Mexico, known as "huachicoleros," have been known to create leaks in pipelines from which the fuel is "milked" in a scheme that has existed for decades.
According to a report presented in the Mexican Congress in October, fuel station owners, state oil Pemex employees and entire communities made a living from stealing and commercializing fuel.