Massive Pemex Petrochem Plant Blast

Thursday, April 21, 2016 @ 10:04 AM gHale

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

At least 13 people died in a blast at a major petrochemical plant of Mexican oil company Pemex, its chief executive said Thursday.

The explosion, which released a dark plume of smoke billowing toward the sky just after 3 p.m. Wednesday at the facility’s chlorinate 3 plant in the Gulf state of Veracruz, injured 136 people.

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Pemex Chief Executive Jose Antonio Gonzalez, who traveled to the site of the blast, near the port of Coatzacoalcos, one of Pemex’s top oil export hubs, told local television the death toll could rise. He said it was unclear what caused the leak that prompted the blast.

Local emergency officials said hundreds of people had been evacuated from the site. Television footage showed an initial burst of flames followed by a tower of thick smoke. A company official said local oil exports were not affected.

What caused the blast was unclear, but Pemex warned local residents to keep their distance from the site due to what it described as a dissipating cloud of toxic fumes. TV footage showed rainclouds gathering above the plant as evening fell.

Petroquimica Mexicana de Vinilo, or PMV, a vinyl petrochemical plant that is a joint venture between Pemex’s petrochemical unit and Mexican plastic pipe maker Mexichem was the facility hit by the blast.

Operated by Mexichem, the plant lies within Pemex’s larger Pajaritos petrochemical complex. Mexichem said in a statement the explosion occurred in an ethylene unit at the plant.

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.

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