‘Leak’ Causes Pemex Blast; Death Toll Rises

Wednesday, April 27, 2016 @ 09:04 AM gHale


After a leak caused a deadly petrochemical plant blast at a Pemex facility in Mexico, there are now 32 casualties and the death toll could still rise, officials said.

Pemex Chief Executive Jose Antonio Gonzalez Anaya, who traveled to the site of Wednesday’s blast near the port of Coatzacoalcos, one of Pemex’s top oil export hubs, told local television it was unclear what caused the accident.

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The massive explosion at the facility’s chlorinate 3 plant in the Gulf state of Veracruz also injured 136 people, 13 of them seriously.

“We know there was a leak, what we don’t know is why, but everything points to an accident,” Gonzalez Anaya said.

Smoke rises from the explosion site at Mexican national oil company Pemex's Pajaritos petrochemical complex in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz state.  REUTERS/Angel Hernandez

Smoke rises from the explosion site at Mexican national oil company Pemex’s Pajaritos petrochemical complex in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz state.
REUTERS/Angel Hernandez


Remediation of the site could take up to a year, Gonzalez Anaya said. He denied the blast was tied to the economic problems of Pemex, which is trying to stem sliding output and slash costs as it struggles under the pressure of low crude prices.

The sharp odor of ammonia filled the air and the plants’ turbines still streamed gray smoke on Thursday afternoon, where local and municipal police, as well as marines, blocked the entrance to the facility.

The blast occurred at a vinyl petrochemical plant that is a joint venture between Pemex’s petrochemical unit and majority owner Mexican plastic pipe maker Mexichem. Pemex operates the larger petrochemical complex known as Pajaritos that housed the plant.

The plant produces 900 tons a day of vinyl chloride monomer, also known as chloroethene, an industrial chemical used to produce plastic piping. The joint venture had forecast sales of $260 million this year.

“This is neither the time for excuses nor finding those to blame,” said Juan Pablo del Valle, Mexichem’s chairman. “It is the time to tend to the injured, be accountable and support all those affected.”

The explosion was the latest in a string of safety disasters that have plagued the state oil giant.

In February, a fire killed a worker at the PMV plant, which makes vinyl chloride monomer, also known as chloroethene, an industrial chemical used to produce plastic piping.

The incident occurred just weeks after three workers were killed and seven injured when a fire broke out on a Pemex oil-processing platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

It also came as Pemex implements deep cost cuts to cope with a sharp drop in oil prices, and seeks to stem a slide in output. Mexico is in the midst of a historic push to lure private investors to revive its oil industry.

Pemex, which enjoyed a decades-long monopoly over Mexico’s oil and gas sector until an energy reform opened up the sector in 2014, has experienced a series of high-profile accidents.

In 2013, at least 37 people were killed by a blast at its Mexico City headquarters, and 26 people died in a fire at a Pemex natural gas facility in northern Mexico in September 2012.

A 2015 fire at its Abkatun Permanente platform in the oil-rich Bay of Campeche affected oil output and cost the company up to $780 million.

Pemex said last year it had reduced its annual accident rate in 2014 by more than 33 percent. But an investigation found Pemex was reducing its accident rate by including hours worked by office staff in its calculations.