Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Maintenance issues at Pemex put environment, workers and residents at risk

The state-owned oil company’s budget has decreased by 46% under the austerity of President López Obrador, worsening longstanding problems of equipment and infrastructure conditions. Experts warned of the possibility of serious accidents that could put lives and the environment at risk.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — Much of the infrastructure of Mexico’s state-owned oil company Pemex is past its shelf life and in dire need of maintenance, putting workers, the public and the environment at risk of catastrophic accidents, experts and union members said.

The Pemex workers union STPRM presented the company with a report detailing over 5,000 safety and hygiene issues in the system that could lead to serious accidents, the newspaper Reforma reported Monday. 

The union report also stated that 34 Pemex workers were injured on the job in the first trimester of 2022, a 56% increase from the same period the year before. 

Despite the work of local committees charged with monitoring and reporting safety and hygiene risks in the system, “the Pemex administration is not carrying out the corresponding maintenance, so with each passing day, we oil workers run more risks in the execution of our jobs,” the report states. 

Pemex workers are doing “something just short of a miracle” to avoid more serious incidents than those the system has seen in recent years, said Gonzalo Monroy, managing director at the energy consultancy GMEC, in a phone interview. 

Monroy pointed to events like the fire in an underwater pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico that English-speaking social media users called the “eye of fire” and Spanish-speakers dubbed the “jacuzzi del infierno,” or Hell’s jacuzzi. He likened a catastrophic event in the future to the unfortunate reality of mass shootings in the United States. 

“We don’t know where it will happen, but we do know with virtual certainty that it will occur,” said Monroy, who added that while the problem has worsened under the austerity that is “practically the insignia” of the current federal administration, its roots reach back to previous presidencies.  

There were six disasters at Pemex facilities during the term of President López Obrador’s predecessor Enrique Peña Nieto, including an explosion at a plant in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, that left 32 dead, 130 wounded and not one person responsible, according to Latin American government watchdog PODER

But austerity measures aren’t the only explanation for the backlog of necessary repairs to the system. Monroy described a situation of low morale among Pemex employees due to López Obrador’s treatment of them in his public discourse. 

Early in his term, López Obrador had to deal with the problem of fuel shortages due to gasoline theft, and his response was to blame Pemex employees themselves, but Monroy said that was not the case.

“In reality, many Pemex workers are threatened every single day by organized crime. The accusation was unjust and showed that López Obrador was very unaware of the reality of petroleum workers,” he said. 

Furthermore, oil platforms in Mexico saw some of the country’s worst outbreaks of Covid-19 during the height of the pandemic. Pemex saw more Covid-19 deaths than any other company in Mexico, and the federal government did little to compensate or support the affected workforce. 

“The administration has not taken care of Pemex workers. It asks much of them, gives them nothing and puts them at risk,” said Monroy. 

The perennial issue at play is the lack of a long-term plan to sustain Pemex’s operations from one administration to the next, energy industry consultant Ramsés Pech said in a phone interview.

“In Mexico, each incoming administration appoints a director of Pemex, and each new director changes the structure, the way they choose where to drill, everything. There’s no long-term planning,” said Pech. 

Pemex’s revenue has increased steadily as the price of crude oil has risen worldwide, but it has not invested those gains in system upkeep. Without such investment, Pech said, and with exports steadily growing, presidential goals like ending all oil exports by 2023 are nothing but a pipe dream. 

“We’re arguing over how to generate electricity,” he said, referring to López Obrador’s controversial electricity reform, “but we’re not discussing where we’re going to get the raw material for that electricity in the long run.”

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