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Gas leak caused Pemex blast

06 February 2013

Mexico's Attorney-General said a buildup of gas in the basement of the headquarters of the Mexican national oil company Pemex caused a blast that killed 37 people and wounded dozens on January 31. Jesus Murillo Karam said an investigation by Mexican, Spanish, US and British experts found no evidence of explosives in the blast that collapsed several lower floors of the Petroleos Mexicanos administrative building.

He said that the experts believe that an electrical fault had caused a spark that detonated the leaking gas. 

The Mexican government said the leak raised fresh questions about the firm's safety record, the latest in a string of disasters to hit the state-owned oil giant. New President Enrique Pena Nieto is seeking to overhaul Pemex as part of a raft of economic reforms aimed at boosting growth in Latin America's second largest economy.

"We have been able to determine that the explosion was caused by an accumulation of gas in the basement of the building," Murillo told a news conference in Mexico City. He said the gas was believed to be methane.

Murillo said the gas may have leaked from containers in a storage facility connected to where the explosion took place by a tunnel. Or it could have leaked from an ageing pipeline that passed through the building.

Another possibility is that it emanated from sewage in the ground under the building, he said.

Murillo said contractors working on supports under the building needed electricity and used an extension cord, which could have caused a spark that ignited the gas.

The explosion next to Pemex's flagship tower block prompted renewed criticism of the oil giant's safety record. The company has proved stubbornly resistant to change and has become a byword for inefficiency and graft, with oil output falling behind that of other major producers.

A symbol of Mexican self-sufficiency since President Lazaro Cardenas expropriated U.S. and British oil companies in 1938 and nationalized the oil industry, Pemex has also become 

Mexico is the world's number 7 oil producer and a top exporter to the United States. But output has slumped from a peak of 3.4 million barrels per day in 2004 to under 2.6 million bpd now. . The Mexican government relies on oil revenues to fund nearly a third of the federal budget.

The heavy tax burden has limited Pemex's ability to fund new projects and lift crude output. The government has warned that Mexico could become a net oil importer as early as 2018 if major new oil finds cannot be developed.

While the company had said it improved safety prior to the blast, fires, explosions and other safety breaches that are regular occurrences.

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