An illegal pipeline tap is to blame for an LP gas leak that caused an explosion that claimed the life of one person and seriously injured eight others in Puebla city early Sunday, a state oil company official said.
Javier González del Villar, director of Pemex’s logistics division, said the leak in San Pablo Xochimehuacán in the city’s north end occurred after thieves perforated the pipeline to extract gas into a tanker owned by the company Hidro Gas. At least two other explosions occurred after a powerful initial blast.
Accompanied by Puebla Governor Miguel Barbosa, González told a press conference that the explosion occurred on the gas pipeline that runs between Tecamachalco and San Martín Texmelucan. More than 180 houses and numerous cars were damaged in the blast. The fire it caused was brought under control just before 5:00 a.m. Sunday.
Barbosa said that a “a tragedy of enormous proportions” was prevented thanks to a rapid evacuation of people in the vicinity. Some 2,000 people who live within a one-kilometer radius of the site were evacuated prior to the explosion in the early hours of Sunday morning.
González said that a Hidro Gas tanker entered the property where the explosion occurred at 1:00 a.m Sunday and was extracting gas by 1:30 a.m.
He said Pemex believes that a hose being used to extract gas became detached from the pipeline due to the pressure of the gas running through it. Realizing that gas was leaking, the thieves got scared and fled, González said. A transformer located in front of the illegal tap served as a “point of ignition,” he added.
The Pemex official said that LP gas theft is a common occurrence in Puebla city and other municipalities in the state such as San Martín Texmelucan, San Matías Tlalancaleca and Tepeaca. Thieves tap a pipeline, connect a tanker to the breach, fill up and leave, he said.
Barbosa said he had asked federal authorities to review the permits they have granted to gas companies in Puebla and the way in which they obtain their product. He also said that his government will collaborate with the federal government to patrol gas pipelines “meter by meter” to apprehend gas thieves.
A gas station located near the property where the gas pipeline was tapped will also be investigated, the governor added.
According to Pemex data, 1,511 illegal taps on gas pipelines were detected in the first eight months of the year, a 17% increase compared to the same period of 2020. Two-thirds of the perforations were detected in Puebla.
Taps on gas and gasoline pipelines have caused dozens of explosions in recent years, including one in Tlahuelilpan, Hidalgo, that claimed 137 lives in January 2019.