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Soldiers check fuel shipments leaving a Pemex storage depot in México state. Soldiers check fuel shipments leaving a Pemex storage depot in México state.

As 4,000 soldiers watch over Pemex facilities, severe fuel shortages continue

Government says anti-theft strategy is working, but the cost in fuel shortages has been high

Around 4,000 soldiers and marines are now guarding Mexico’s oil refineries and other facilities operated by the state oil company as part of the federal government’s anti-fuel theft strategy.

President López Obrador said today that the government’s plan, which has also included transporting fuel by tanker trucks rather than pipelines, has already generated savings of 2.5 billion pesos (US $129.1 million).

“Before the plan [a quantity equal to] 787 tankers [of fuel] was stolen daily, now with the plan it’s gone down to 177 tankers a day,” he told reporters at his early morning press conference.

Members of the military have assumed responsibility for security at the refineries in Salamanca, Guanajuato; Ciudad Madero, Tamaulipas; Salina Cruz, Oaxaca; Minatitlán, Veracruz; and Cadereyta, Nuevo León.

They are also watching over terminals and storage facilities in other parts of the country including México state and Querétaro.

López Obrador said last month that Pemex employees also steal fuel and distribute it and charged that the company’s managers were aware of it.

“There is a hypothesis that of all the [fuel] thefts, only about 20% is done by illegal pipeline taps,” Lopez Obrador said on December 27.

“It’s a kind of smoke-screen, and the majority is done through a scheme that involves the complicity of authorities and a distribution network.”

Today he said that the military had discovered a three-kilometer-long “hose” that was funneling fuel out of storage tanks at the Salamanca refinery into a secret storage area.

“If the citizens continue to support us, we’re going to put an end to corruption, zero corruption, zero impunity,” López Obrador said.

While the president claims that fuel theft has been dramatically reduced as a result of the government’s new strategy – the figures he cited today represent a 78% decline in the crime just two weeks after the plan was implemented – he also concedes that it has caused gasoline shortages in some parts of the country.

López Obrador reiterated today that the shortages, which have affected at least nine states, are due to logistics rather than a lack of supply.

“There is enough gasoline in the country, it’s not a problem of supply,” he said, explaining that using tanker trucks rather than pipelines for distribution had created a “special situation.”

Energy Secretary Rocio Nahle yesterday apologized for the inconvenience caused to motorists as a result of the gasoline shortage which has hit the states of Michoacán, Querétaro, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, México state and Jalisco the hardest.

“. . . It was not our intention to cause unease to anyone . . . We knew in advance that these types of operation and these kinds of actions [to combat fuel theft] would not be easy but it would be irresponsible on our part if, knowing the size of the problem, we didn’t do anything . . .” she said.

Shortages were reported this afternoon in México state, Hidalgo, Mexico City, Querétaro, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Tamaulipas, Michoacán and Nuevo León.

The governor of Guanajuato announced today that Pemex has promised to send 41,000 barrels of gasoline over the next two or three days. Another 14,000 barrels are en route to Querétaro and shipments are also on the way to Michoacán.

Roberto Díaz de León, president of the gas station trade organization Onexpo, said today that if Pemex maintains the same “pace” in its efforts to return gasoline supply to normal, shortages could come to an end by Friday in some affected cities, such as Querétaro, Morelia, León, Silao and Saltillo.

Díaz told Radio Fórmula that there is sufficient fuel in coastal terminals but explained that “the great challenge is sending the product inland.”

However, he expressed confidence that if Pemex uses all of its tanker trucks and fuel pipelines are secured, the supply of fuel could begin to normalize by Friday.

Source: Milenio (sp), Reforma (sp), AM (sp)

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