Monday, June 17, 2024

Pemex denies claim that government is hiding huge oil spill

Pemex has denied claims by civil society organizations that the government is concealing a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Campeche, in the same area where a deadly fire broke out on a Pemex oil platform on July 7.

In an open letter on Monday, more than 20 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said that satellite images processed by geographer Guillermo Tamburini show a spill from another platform, which by July 12 had extended approximately 400 square kilometers — more than double the size of the city of Guadalajara. The images suggest that the spill started around July 4.

The alleged oil spill in the Gulf of Campeche, according to the Mexican Center for Environmental Law. (CEMDA)

Days after the alleged spill, a fire broke out on Pemex’s Nohoch-Alfa platform and spread to a nearby compression platform, leaving two workers dead, one missing and eight injured.

“The complete opacity with which this spill has been handled is worrying because of the possibility that it is a sample of other similar incidents that pass without being quantified and without a record of attention,” said the open letter, signed by organizations including the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA) and Greenpeace México.

The next day, Pemex released a statement “clarifying” the incident. The state oil company said that a leak in the Ek Balam oil fields had been reported to the Security, Energy and Environment Agency (ASEA) on July 6 but that it is now fully repaired and that it had nothing to do with the fire on the Nohoch-A platform.

“The two leakage points in the duct were a small fissure 7 centimeters long by 1 millimeter wide and a hole of 1.2 centimeters in diameter. Given the small size of the cracks, the volume of hydrocarbons that escaped was minimal,” Pemex said.

Pemex oil platform fire in Campeche
A fire on the Nohoch-A platform on July 7 left 2 workers dead and one missing. NGOs now say there is an oil spill of up to 400 square kilometers in the area. (Lilly Téllez/Twitter)

The company said that the NGO’s claim of a 400-square-kilometer spill was a “bad faith estimate,” and that the spill’s true size was 0.06 square kilometers, or 365 barrels of oil. 

It added that the Ek Balam pipeline network is coming to the end of its 30-year useful lifespan and is due to be changed, after which “the possibility of oil leaks will be definitively eliminated.”

In their open letter, the NGOs highlighted another spill in the same area in June, with an alleged extension of 270 square kilometers. They also claimed that Pemex accidents have increased by 152% over the last two years, while the budget for maintaining facilities has been reduced by 49%.

“This has caused a time bomb that constantly translates into fatalities, not from casual accidents but from precarious working conditions, without the will of the industry to solve it,” they argued.

Since taking office in 2018, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has implemented an austerity plan for Pemex, cutting the struggling company’s tax burden and capital investment. 

A string of accidents has raised concerns about the impact of the cuts on Pemex’s safety record. Notable scandals include a ruptured underwater pipeline that killed five people in 2021 and three fires that broke out at three separate Pemex facilities on the same day in February.

The NGOs also argued that such events should not be seen as accidents but rather that “spills, leaks and fires are inherent to the extraction of fossil fuels.” They called for Mexico to move away from oil extraction and redirect resources towards renewable energy generation.

With reports from Debate and Infobae

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