Magazine article SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico

State-Run Oil Company Pemex Clashes with State & Local Governments regarding Its Environmental Problems

Magazine article SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico

State-Run Oil Company Pemex Clashes with State & Local Governments regarding Its Environmental Problems

Article excerpt

PEMEX's poor environmental record has put the state-run oil company into conflict with state governments and local communities, prompting some states and local communities to take or threaten to take unilateral actions to protect their citizens.

PEMEX mishaps, particularly oil spills and explosions, have caused major environmental damage and threatened the health of residents in southeastern states during recent years (see SourceMex, 1997-04-02, 2003-04-09, and 2005-01-05). The accidents have continued into this year, with extreme environmental damage and a handful of deaths reported from a series of incidents in the spring and summer.

In April, a ruptured pipeline left six dead and forced the evacuation of 6,000 residents in Nanchital, Veracruz state. In June and July, pipeline explosions in Tabasco state caused eight deaths and 20 injuries. In July, an explosion at the Pajaritos marine terminal in Veracruz killed two people.

Chiapas state government shuts down PEMEX well

PEMEX's poor track record, along with the company's slow response to mishaps, has forced some local and state authorities to take matters into their own hands. In early August, the Chiapas state government shut down the Malva 201 oil well in the municipality of Sunuapa in the northwestern region of the state. Authorities claimed the PEMEX well was producing toxic emissions that endangered the lives of people in Santa Cruz, one of the communities in Sunuapa.

The well, which yields only 500 barrels of oil per day, also produces 2 million cubic feet of natural gas daily. Rather than send the gas to a processing center, PEMEX had chosen to burn the natural gas at the wellhead, sending particulates into the air.

Chiapas Gov. Pablo Salazar Mendiguchea asked PEMEX several times to take care of the problem, but the company ignored those requests, prompting Salazar to order the well shut down. "With the experience of the explosions in Tabasco and Veracruz, the governor of Chiapas has shown that his state takes preventive measures," Salazar said at a news conference. "We can't lower our guard and wait for our house to burn down without doing anything."

In addition to the Chiapas state government, local officials in Altamira and Ciudad Madero in Tamaulipas state are pushing for PEMEX to repair or shut down pipelines leading to almost 1,300 wells close to residential areas in the two cities. These wells comprise almost half the total 2,600 operated by PEMEX in Tamaulipas state. The mayors of Altamira and Ciudad Madero did not have any immediate plans to take direct action, but have appealed to state authorities to begin discussions with the oil company.

In early August, residents of the communities of Villa Luz, La Privada, and El Angel in the Comalcalco region of Tabasco state temporarily blocked a PEMEX facility after detecting gas odors near the facility. The residents demanded that PEMEX take action to guarantee the safety of its facilities. After inspecting the site, engineers said they could not find any leaks.

The action by the Chiapas state government is unprecedented because PEMEX, as a federal entity, has traditionally had full control of decisions at all its facilities. However, Leonardo Munoz Arellano of the Chiapas civil-protection office defended the right of Chiapas to take unilateral action. In statements to reporters, he referred to a handful of government briefings that "give the state government the legal basis to proceed with the suspension of dangerous activities."

Other states left open the possibility that they could follow the Chiapas example. "There are dozens of communities and thousands of families in constant danger from the PEMEX pipelines, and if necessary we will also shut down oil wells that continue threatening these families," Hidalgo state civil-protection director Salvador Nery Sosa told the Los Angeles Times.

Govs. …

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