Thieves tapping into an oil pipeline caused a huge explosion Sunday that killed at least 28 people in San Martin Texmelucan, Puebla. This is the latest and most dramatic incident of petroleum theft in Mexico: the state-owned oil company, Pemex, estimates that it loses about $1 billion per year to illegal tapping.
There is also growing evidence that organized criminal groups, particularly the Zetas, are involved in siphoning oil for profit, as well as extorting and kidnapping Pemex workers.
InSight developed a map showing where Mexican authorities reported illegal tapping on Pemex oil and gas pipelines within the last six months. According to Pemex, a total of 550 cases have been registered nationwide so far this year. This is already higher than the 439 cases last year.
One trend appears to be greater activity in Tamaulipas, where the Zetas are most active, especially the Cadereyta-Reynosa-Matamoros gas pipeline. Home to Mexico's biggest fields of natural gas, this region is also a battleground between the Zetas and its former collaborators, the Gulf cartel. By expanding their criminal portfolio to include contraband gas and petroleum, the Zetas may be seeking a much needed financial edge over their rivals.
In 2009, Pemex reported that Veracruz, Nuevo Leon, and the state of Mexico saw the most cases of illegal tapping. It looks as though oil theft remains common in these regions.
Pemex has also faced accusations that high-ranking officials have worked alongside the Zetas in stealing the petroleum for profit. One former Pemex employee, Francisco Guizar Pavon, was arrested in June, accused of stealing oil in collusion with the Zetas. Internal corruption could also explain the prevalence of theft in certain areas.
View Dec 19 - PEMEX map in a larger map