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U.S. Oil Companies Duck Stolen Mexican Gas Suit

HOUSTON (CN) - Mexico's oil company Pemex cannot exclude alleged purchasers of its stolen natural gas condensate to focus on U.S. distributors, a federal judge ruled.

In an April 2012 federal complaint, Pemex Exploracion y Produccion claimed that 12 oil and gas companies knowingly imported stolen natural gas condensate stripped by Mexican drug cartels from the Burgos oilfield.

Natural gas condensate is a feedstock used by refineries and chemical plants.

Cartels have run roughshod over the Burgos oilfield since 2006, stealing at least $300 million of condensate, Pemex says. Tankers are hijacked at gunpoint, company officials are kidnapped and threatened, and the cartels also build their own pipelines to steal condensate from its 52 transfer-and-delivery stations, according to the complaint.

Pemex says cartels take advantage of the expanse and isolation of the Burgos field, an Ireland-sized property that cuts across Mexico's three northeastern states, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon and Coahuila.

The company sued individually and as an assignee of the refineries that allegedly bought the stolen condensate: AGE Refinery, Flint Hills Resources and Valero Marketing and Supply.

Those refineries signed settlements that promise to reimburse Pemex for any stolen condensate they purchased, but Pemex has agreed to seek reimbursement from the sellers only.

U.S. District Judge Sim Lake dismissed the case Monday after agreeing with the distributors that had said Pemex lacks standing to sue on behalf of the refineries.

The refineries have not been injured since they received the amount of natural gas promised, used that natural gas, did not lose any money and suffered no injury, according to the ruling.

Pemex's refusal to seek reimbursement from the refiners also means that they will never suffer any damages, Lake added.

"Missing from PEP's original complaint and/or responses to the pending motions to dismiss are factual allegations and/or evidence capable of establishing that the assignors - as opposed to PEP - suffered injury that would allow them to recover the value of goods that they purchased and/or received from any of the defendants named in this action," Lake wrote. "Accordingly, PEP lacks standing to assert the assigned claims."

Since the indirect, assigned claims lack standing, the judge found it would be moot to let defendants implicated by those counts designate responsible third parties.

Plains Marketing, Murphy Energy, F&M Transportation, Big Star, St. James and Superior Crude belong to that group of defendants.

Another group of defendants that faces direct claims from Pemex will get to make such designations. Those defendants are Shell Trading US, Shell Chemical, ConocoPhillips, FR Midstream, Sunoco and FR Midstream.

They seek to shift the blame to hundreds of individuals and companies that Pemex has identified as role players in the conspiracy to steal its condensate.

"Defendants allege, and PEP does not deny, that PEP's pleadings, disclosures, and discovery responses identify the parties that they seek to designate as responsible third-parties as parties who caused or contributed to PEP'S injuries," Lake wrote

"These allegations are sufficient at this early stage of the case to satisfy the pleading requirements for designating responsible third parties," he added.

Pemex had filed similar lawsuits in June 2010 and June 2011. In June 2012, Lake had barred Pemex from suing under Mexican law.

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