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Mexico to change anti-fuel theft plan after blast



By Argus


Petroleumworld 01 21 2019

Mexico will change the fuel theft prevention strategy that led to widespread shortages following an explosion and fire that killed dozens of people gathering gasoline from an illegally tapped pipeline.

The 82,000 b/d Tuxpan-Tula fuel pipeline exploded on the evening of 18 January, two days after fuel shipments resumed on the line and just hours after thieves tapped it illegally. The fire killed 85and injured 81, with dozens more missing, said health minister Jorge Alcocer.

Mexico's government launched an anti-fuel theft effort in late December in which it switched fuel shipments from a number of theft-prone pipelines to tanker trucks, causing severe disruptions in the fuel supply chain.

The country tried to limit the shortages by calling on private fuel distributors , expediting shipments from the US and speeding up tanker truck licensing, but the problem has persisted and prices have risen .

On 19 January President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador reversed earlier pledges to stick with the pipeline restrictions, saying the government would not close any more pipelines and instead will reinforce military security on the pipelines.

"We cannot close the pipelines because we could not supply fuels," Lopez Obrador said. "Transporting fuels by pipelines is the cheapest, most efficient way, then rails, then vessels, and then trucks."

The government said it will also try to use technologies developed by the Mexican institute of petroleum (IMP) to make pipeline taps more difficult. But even with increased monitoring and security, preventing illegal pipeline taps and accidents will continue to be a challenge.

The illegal tap on the Tuxpan-Tula pipeline was 14 km (8.6 miles) away from 315,000 b/d Tula refinery in Tlahuelilpan, Hidalgo. About 25 soldiers were sent to the tap site as soon as it was discovered at about 4pm ET on 18 January. But they were unable to control the hundreds of people who showed up with plastic tubs to gather the fuel flowing like a geyser from the ruptured pipe.

"It is extremely hard for 25 men to contain 600, 800 persons," defense secretary Luis Sandoval said on 18 January.

The cause of the explosion is under investigation.

Opposing National action party (PAN) blamed the government for the accident.

"The investigations must consider the government's possible negligence and incompetence in the fuel theft fight that unfortunately now is costing lives," PAN said.

The Tuxpan-Tula pipeline transports fuels to the Tula refinery, which is a primary supply for Mexico City retail fuel stations.

Fuels arriving at Tuxpan, Veracruz, largely are imported from US Gulf coast refineries. Mexico imported 611,000 b/d of gasoline during 2018, on average, to complement its 788,000 b/d gasoline demand.


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