Monday, September 6, 2010
In the failed state of Mexico, the meandering network of pipes, wells and tankers belonging to the enormous state-owned oil company Pemex have long been an easy target of crooks and drug traffickers who siphon off natural gas, gasoline and crude, robbing the Mexican treasury of hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
Now the murderous drug cartels have taken sabotage to a new level: hobbling key operations in parts of the Burgos Basin, home to the country’s biggest natural gas fields.
Forced to defer production and curtail drilling and maintenance in a region that spreads through some of Mexico’s most dangerous badlands, the world’s seventh-largest oil producer has become another casualty of the drug war.
In May, gunmen wearing camouflage and tennis shoes kidnapped five Pemex workers as they rode to the front gate of the Gigante No. 1 natural gas plant in the Burgos Basin. One man was a mechanic, another specialized in pumps. All were dressed in their crisp khaki uniforms with the Pemex logo, ready for long shifts. They have not been heard from since.
Before the kidnappings, convoys of mysterious gunmen started plying the roadways, followed by shows of force, intimidation, beatings and, finally, the abductions. Pleas for help and better protection, union leaders and workers say, went unheeded. The exact motives behind the May kidnappings remain unclear.
Now, Pemex, Mexico’s largest income earner, pulling in nearly a third of the national budget, sits idly by and watches its operations crippled by violent drug cartel activity in the Burgos Basin — an area stretching across the northern border state of Tamaulipas.