An explosion at a leaking gasoline pipeline in the Mexican state of Hidalgo has left at least 85 people dead and another 58 hospitalized. Reports say the state oil company, Pemex was aware of the leak hours before the explosion, but did not close the valve.
This comes in the wake of an audacious plan put in place by the new Mexican president, attempting to crack down on widespread pipeline theft across country. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has shifted delivery of gasoline away from the pipelines, and toward using trucks instead. It is part of López Obrador’s effort to get tough on corruption, but it has created gasoline shortages in several Mexican states.
Loren Steffy covers business and the oil industry for Texas Monthly. He says the explosion was the result of a widespread pipeline theft in the area.
“This was an area where they had punctured the pipelines in the past and people show up with containers and try to take the gasoline,” he says. “We’ve seen this happen in Mexico for years.”
Steffy explains that, in this particular case, there was an exceptionally large crowd gathered at the pipeline, trying to get gas. There was originally a small puncture, but when people became impatient, they made a bigger hole. As a result, gasoline speed everywhere and was ignited.
“It’s a really, really terrible accident. It shows how potentially dangerous these events are,” Steffy says.
Steffy says that this was a place Pemex knew was prone to theft since the pipeline had already been patched a number of times. Soldiers were assigned to the site, but they were overwhelmed by the number of people, and were told not to engage the crowd.
“It’s a significant problem and I think that the government, and Pemex as an extension of the government, has not yet figured out the best way to deal with this,” Steffy says.
It’s unclear how the government will respond to this incident.
“In terms of what they can actually do, I think their options are somewhat limited,” Steffy says. “People need gasoline. You have to get fuel to the public and until you address some of the larger societal issues that are driving people to try to steal this stuff directly from a pipeline, it’s really gonna be tough to put a stop to it.”
Written by Morgan Kuehler.