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Mexico Pipeline Fire Kills 85 in Blast

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

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The death toll from a pipeline explosion in Hidalgo, Mexico, that occurred on Friday (Jan. 18), has risen to 85 people, with several dozens more injured, according to reports. That section of pipeline, according to residents, was a popular spot for fuel theft and was again punctured last week.

The explosion occurred only a few weeks after President Andrés Manuel López Obrador launched an initiative against fuel theft gangs. Within the first 10 months of 2018, the number of illegal taps totaled 12,581, an average for 42 per day.

What Happened

The town of Tlahuelilpan, Hidalgo, where the incident occurred, is located 8 miles from a state-run oil refinery. The Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) pipeline had been offline since Dec. 23, 2018, as part of the government's strategy to curb theft, but had come back into service when someone punctured the line again. Soon, crowds surrounded the line, gathering fuel for themselves, according to reports.

In the beginning, the gas leak was manageable, but as more people arrived (about 600), patience began to run thin. Despite a military presence trying to control the situation,the puncture was widened, allowing gas to spout as high as 20 feet into the air.

The pipeline reportedly carried 10,000 barrels of gasoline at 20 kilograms of pressure at the time of the break. The fuel ignited roughly two hours after the breach and engulfed an area roughly the size of a soccer field, according to reports. Officials say it took about four hours to extinguish the blaze.

Moving Forward

Pemex acts as fuel custodian, though the fuel itself belongs to the public. Officials have said that the pipeline in and around Tlahuelilpan has been perforated 10 times over the past three months.

Obrador, who took office in early December, vowed Saturday to redouble his fight against fuel theft. According to reports, fuel theft totaled $3.14 billion for Mexico last year.

Previous prevention measures have included diverting fuel from the pipelines most heavily targeted by criminal gangs, and also moving fuel by truck, which has resulted in shortages and long lines at service stations. Roughly 4,000 police and military personnel have also been deployed to guard fuel infrastructure.

Obrador announced that the attorney general’s office will continue to investigate the explosion, determining whether the fire was an accident or the result of an intentional act, though currently it is believed that the upswell of gasoline filled the air with fumes, which ignited a fireball that also impacted nearby gasoline-soaked fields. He has also asked townspeople to provide testimony, not only about the pipeline explosion, but gas theft activities as a whole.

As for pressing charges, Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero noted that no charges will be pressed against the hospitalized injured or against those who only collected spilled fuel.

"Look, we are not going to victimize the communities," he said. "We are going to search for those responsible for the acts that have generated this tragedy."

   

Tagged categories: Accidents; Explosions; Fire; Health & Safety; NA; North America; Oil and Gas; Pipeline

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