MOSCOW (MRC) - Nearly a month after Mexico's new president launched an ambitious plan to stamp out growing fuel theft, the strategy meant to crush corruption and organized crime is under heightened scrutiny, as per Hydrocarbonprocessing.
On Friday, at least 79 people died from a powerful explosion at a gasoline pipeline in central Mexico that had been punctured by fuel thieves. Relatives of some of the victims said fuel shortages stemming from the government's crackdown led people to risk their lives filling plastic containers from the leak.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office in December, said the tragedy has not weakened his faith in the plan. Since late December, he has closed six major pipelines where criminal gangs and other thieves have siphoned off stolen fuel worth billions of dollars. Lopez Obrador is moving distribution to trucks, but that switch has caused delivery delays and long lines at gas stations, threatening to crimp the economy and hurt his popularity if shortages persist. The veteran leftist won a landslide election victory on promises to root out endemic corruption, strengthen ailing national oil company Pemex and ensure stable fuel prices.
Mexico's fast-growing motor fuel market is a juicy target for thieves. It is the world's sixth biggest, according to energy ministry data, featuring a total daily demand of nearly 1.18 million barrels of gasoline and diesel. The Mexican government's lack of attention has allowed organized groups to open clandestine taps along Pemex's main pipelines. Internal complicity at Pemex refineries and terminals have also opened the door for theft of entire trucks loaded with fuel. Fuel stolen from Pemex's infrastructure mostly ends in the hands of the same retailers that legally sell Pemex gasoline and diesel.