Jan. 7, 2019– Mary Greeley News – At least nine states are now affected by gasoline shortages, a situation which President López Obrador says is the result of the government’s new strategy to combat petroleum theft.
Shortages of varying severity have been reported in Michoacán, Querétaro, México state, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Puebla, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas and Hidalgo.
López Obrador told a press conference yesterday that state oil company Pemex is making greater use of tanker trucks to transport fuel rather than pipelines as part of the strategy to combat fuel theft, explaining that was the cause of the gas shortages.
Fuel theft deprives Mexico of more than $1 billion in state revenues every year. The security issues and rampant thefts scare off Mexico’s old and inefficient refineries even after the opening of the energy sector to private investment. Crackdowns on the drug cartels have prompted the narco lords to seek a less risky but lucrative source of revenue — fuels — as everyone buys gasoline, and not everyone buys drugs, said officials who spoke to Reuters’ Stargardter.
The drug cartels pose a threat to the refinery operations of state oil firm Pemex, which owns the nation’s six refineries. The number of illegal taps discovered along Mexico’s fuel lines increased fivefold between 2011 and 2016, while costs to repair them increased tenfold, to the equivalent of $95 million, according to a report from the country’s federal auditor, as quoted in Reuters.
The number of identified illegal taps of pipelines in Mexico jumped from around 710 in 2010 to some 6,260 in 2016, The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) said in an analysis in July 2017, citing figures by Pemex.
“The shortage problem in some very localized parts [of the country] . . . has to do with the change that was made to transport fuel in tankers more than in pipelines. So, as these changes are being made, there may be shortages at some points,” he said.
The government announced last week that it would also deploy 4,000 soldiers and marines to guard the nation’s oil refineries and petroleum storage facilities as part of the plan to combat fuel theft, a scourge that costs Pemex billions of pesos a year.
The announcement came less than a week after a Pemex report revealed that petroleum pipeline theft increased by 45% in the first 10 months of 2018 with a total of 12,581 illegal taps detected.
López Obrador said yesterday that authorities are working to resolve the shortage problem and called for “understanding and support” from citizens.
“I reiterate, help us by not buying anything stolen, in this case fuel. [I make the call] to citizens, companies, because there was a case in which construction companies were being supplied with stolen gasoline and diesel,” he said.
“. . . We all have to behave well, we all have to help,” López Obrador added.
Roberto Díaz de León, president of the gas station trade organization Onexpo, was critical of the government’s fuel transportation strategy, charging that the cost of moving gas by tankers is 14 times greater than pipelines.
Fuel shortages have now been affecting Morelia, Michoacán, for 10 days due to the closure of pipelines to the state, the newspaper Milenio reported. Of 90 gas stations in the state capital, at least 22 have run out of fuel completely.
In Querétaro, around 70 gas stations have been affected by gas shortages of which 50 have been forced to close.
Enrique Arroyo, president of the state’s gas station association, told the newspaper El Universal that Pemex hasn’t indicated when normal supplies to Querétaro will resume.
“The reality is that we don’t have a date, we haven’t received a response. They [Pemex] expect that the delivery of product via pipeline will be reestablished to the region soon but at the moment they’re continuing to bring fuel [by tanker] from San José Iturbide [Guanajuato] but it’s taking too long,” he said.
Arroyo said that if fuel deliveries are not significantly increased over the weekend, it is probable that more gas stations will close by Monday.
“The amount [of fuel] Pemex is bringing in tankers is very little, it’s going to bring the city [of Querétaro] to a standstill . . .” he said.
Earlier this week, Arroyo described the situation in the state as the “worst crisis” in the past decade.
“Fortunately, here in the state we have Mobil, it’s helped us a lot . . . [Without it] practically all the stations would be closed,” he told El Universal.
A report by the newspaper Reforma today said that gas stations in the metropolitan area of Toluca, capital of México state, as well as the municipalities of Valle de Bravo, Temascaltepec and Tejupilco are also affected by fuel shortages.
In Guanajuato, Governor Diego Sinhué Rodríguez said the shortage is mainly affecting the municipalities of Apaseo El Grande, Apaseo El Alto, Celaya, Comonfort, Salamanca, Irapuato, Silao, León and Guanajuato.
He described the situation as “worrying” and questioned whether it is related to the deployment of military forces to the refinery in Salamanca.
Some gas station employees in the state complained that their hip pockets have taken a hit because they largely depend on tips for their income.
“We’re doing very badly and have no idea when the supply will return to normal,” a pump attendant in León said.
In the metropolitan area of Guadalajara, Jalisco, at least 37 gas stations have reported shortages in recent days.
In addition to causing long lines of motorists at gas stations, the fuel shortage forced municipal police in Zapopan to patrol the streets yesterday with only half of their usual fleet of vehicles.
The Puebla municipalities of Tepeaca, Acatzingo and Tecamachalco are also facing shortages, Reforma said, while some gas stations in Monterrey, Nuevo León, have reported running out of premium fuel.
Gas stations in the Tamaulipas cities of Matamoros, Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo have all reported shortages, especially of regular fuel, with the majority only able to offer premium gasoline to motorists.
Residents of Pachuca, Hidalgo, have reported the same situation on social media while some service stations in the municipalities of Tizayuca and Actopan have closed completely.
Despite the fuel shortage crisis and the growing frustration of motorists and businesses in affected states, the head of the Federal Consumer Protection Agency (Profeco), Ricardo Sheffield Padilla, said yesterday that no formal complaints had been filed.