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A gasoline pipeline in central Mexico that exploded on Friday has killed more than 80 people to date, media report. The initial death toll was a lot lower, but the latest update from the Wall Street Journal pegs the number of casualties at 85.
The pipeline, owned and operated by state energy giant Pemex, was breached by fuel thieves, and at the time of the explosion a lot of people were gathered around it to take home some “free fuel.” Unfortunately, the free fuel came at a very high cost when a leak in the breached pipeline caused a blast.
“What happened here should serve as an example for the whole nation to unite behind the fight that the president is carrying out against this ill,” the local municipal health director Jorge Aguilar Lopez said, as quoted by Global News. However, in a country with the poverty levels of Mexico, “free fuel” is appealing. In 2017, the Pena Nieto government hiked prices at the pump by a fifth, sparking widespread protests.
Yet the tragedy highlights the popularity of fuel theft that president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador vowed to fight with radical means if necessary. In late December, Mexico’s military took control over 58 key fuel installations in the country, including refineries, upon orders by the new president.
According to Pemex’s own estimates, the losses from fuel theft over the past three years have reached US$7.5 billion (147 billion Mexican pesos). A lot of the theft is conducted by gangs who are quick to resort to violence as they fight among themselves for greater access to state fuels and also engage in extortion of oil workers. According to Lopez Obrador, authorities are also involved in widespread fuel theft.
The crackdown on fuel theft has been quick and it has had one important side effect: a fuel shortage at retail stations as Pemex closes pipelines and switches to fuel trucks. This caused in some cases lengthy delays in fuel deliveries, with the shortages even reaching the capital of the country, Mexico City.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.