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Death toll from Mexican pipeline explosion reaches 114

28 January 2019

The number of deaths caused by the explosion and fire on January 18 at the Tlahuelilpan, Hidalgo, pipeline tap has risen to 114. Health Secretary Jorge Alcocer Varela told a press conference that 46 deaths had occurred in hospital and 23 burn victims remain in hospitals in Mexico City, the states of México and Hidalgo, and in Galveston, Texas.

Pemex pipeline marker - Image: Shutterstock
Pemex pipeline marker - Image: Shutterstock

Meanwhile, more high-risk illegal pipeline taps have been identified in the Tlahuelilpan area after local residents came forward to report them to authorities. Federal Police confirmed that 11 taps were located in the municipality of Tlahuelilpan and three more were found in Tetepango.

A Federal police officer told the same press conference that citizens who reported the location of the pipeline taps did so because they were aware of the risk they pose to their communities. He said no leaks were found and no drop was detected in the internal pressure of the pipelines, which continued to operate normally.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has launched a major crackdown on rampant fuel theft. After the January explosion, the President called on citizens to support the fight against petroleum theft by reporting pipeline taps.

Alcocer said that those remaining in hospital run a high risk of infection in their kidneys, cardiovascular and respiratory systems. This, he said, is because they inhaled scalding air that burned their tracheas and bronchial tubes.

Hundreds of people were in the vicinity of an illegal pipeline tap that spewed gasoline in the town of Tlahuelilpan when the liquid caught fire and exploded into a fireball. Dozens of local residents attempting to fill up containers with oil were engulfed in flames after the blast. 

The explosion was one of the worst in recent history, in a country that has suffered hundreds of illegal ruptures to its network of oil and gas pipelines.

According to Mexico News Daily, the cost of this petroleum theft is much higher than previous estimates. This cost Pemex 147.2 billion pesos (US $7.7 billion) between 2016 and 2018, according to a report by the state oil company, a figure that is far higher than previously thought.

Pemex data and federal intelligence reports show that fuel theft and the financial damage it causes have both risen year over year in the three-year period.

In 2016, fuel thieves known as huachicoleros stole an average of 26,000 barrels of fuel a day, costing the company 30.8 billion pesos (US $1.6 billion at today’s exchange rate). The thieves sold the fuel for an average of 10 pesos a litre, generating profits of 15 billion pesos (US $790 million).

In 2017, daily fuel theft rose to 43,000 barrels, costing Pemex 50.1 billion pesos (US $2.6 billion). The price of fuel on the black market increased to 12 pesos a litre and criminal gangs’ profits doubled to an estimated 30 billion pesos (US $1.6 billion).

Last year, fuel theft spiked to an average of 58,200 barrels a day, reducing Pemex’s revenue by 66.3 billion pesos (US $3.5 billion). The price of stolen petroleum increased to 15 pesos a liter, and thieves’ earnings soared to an estimated 50.6 billion pesos (US $2.7 billion).

Last year’s losses are more than two times higher than a figure cited by former Pemex CEO Carlos Treviño, who said in April 2018 that fuel theft cost the company 30 billion pesos a year.

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