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Mexico to implement new fuel theft strategies

16 May 2017 18:53 (+01:00 GMT)
Mexico to implement new fuel theft strategies

Mexico City, 16 May (Argus) — Mexican authorities are rolling out new strategies to fight fuel theft, a growing issue that is costing state-run Pemex over $1bn a year, officials say.

Task forces in Puebla, Veracruz, Tamaulipas and Guanajuato states will coordinate efforts with federal ministries and the Marines to strengthen intelligence gathering, target the supply and demand for stolen fuel and increase social programs to address underlying issues.

The task forces are meant to compliment other efforts and to serve as a response to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto's call for a more aggressive approach to fuel theft, as previous efforts have proven inefficient. Details of the strategy were agreed to yesterday in a meeting with officials from the four states, Mexico's attorney general's office, the interior ministry, Pemex, the Marines, the energy, national defense and finance ministries.

Fuel theft has long been a problem in Mexico but it is drawing greater attention as the country begins opening its fuel markets to competition this year. Widespread illegal tapping of pipelines — estimated by the head of Pemex downstream unit Carlos Murrieta Cummings at about 26,000 b/d — could deter potential investors.

In 2014 Pemex invested $282mn in a new security system to monitor pressure drops. The following year, the firm said it would start transporting unfinished products, which it would finish mixing in storage and distribution terminals, instead of refineries. Pemex also launched a new defense strategy unit, led by the military, while congress raised maximum prison sentence from 10 to 35 years.

It's not clear how effective those efforts have been. In January military forces increased their presence in hard-hit regions by nearly 60pc, but earlier this month, four Mexican soldiers were killed and ten wounded in the state of Puebla while responding to reports of thieves stealing fuel from pipelines.

Senator Pablo Escudero Morales (Green), urged congress last week to expedite an interior security law which would better supervise military operations targeting fuel theft and other issues. The new law would increase oversight of military operations by imposing time limits, requiring the establishment of specific objectives, as well as making it clear who requested the military intervention, said Morales.

Morales also wants to increase the role of municipal and state officials in the training of local police — who are often believed to be involved in fuel theft — to decrease military intervention.

"The military should not be overseeing fuel theft in Puebla. Puebla, with its state and municipal police forces should be attending to this problem," Morales said.

Morales, president of the Senate's internal board, is pushing for marking gasoline and diesel with chemical tracers that would let police track particular batches of fuel to prove they were stolen. He urged better use of technology, such as drones and security systems, and also suggested Pemex workers should be investigated for possible roles in theft cases. Thieves usually need inside information about when to tap the pipelines, as fuel does not flow continuously but at random times of the day and night to prevent illegal tapping.

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