Greed for free Gasoline costed many lives

This incident happened on 18th of January 2019 when a explosion took place in a pipeline transporting gasoline in the town of Tlahuelilpan (Mexico). Around 118 peoples lost their lives and many more were injured. The leak was reported at 17:04 CST (Central time zone) and the explosion took place after two hours. Videos of leaks had gone viral on facebook and people living in the surrounding (Hundreds or thousands) went there to collect the leaking gasoline in jerrycans, bottles, buckets. The authorities blames the fuel thieves for this incident.

Mexico was facing the problem of fuel being theft from the pipelines owned by Pemex (a state owned oil company) as organized crime groups considered it as main source of income. They used to bribe the government authorities who in return would provide them information about the timing of the flow, maps of pipelines and the procedure to perforate the pipelines. The fuel thieves would loot this gasoline and sell it at discounted price and they were also supported by many communities as they provided them cheap gasoline. In the first 10 months of 2018, 12,581 illegal perforations were reported across pipelines in Mexico. As a result of the increase in fuel theft, the federal government has spent approximately US$ 3 billion a year on repairs and maintenance of pipelines and compensation to buyers for whom the product was intended.

In December 2018, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office, launched an anti-gasoline robbery campaign and dispatched nearly 5,000 troops from the Mexican Army and the Federal Police to guard pipelines throughout Mexico. Part of his strategy was to distract fuel flow from pipelines, detect leaks and transport fuel by trucks.  Most thieves work in remote areas and drill during the night in the pipelines to avoid detection. These measures were designed to prevent the thieves from using fuel pipes illegally. When the measures were implemented, however, they led to logistical problems, which in January 2019 resulted in fuel shortages and long lines at national gas stations.

On the day of the accident, the police officer and the military force were asked not to take action against people because they were in large numbers and could lead to a shooting and unarmed civilians would be hurt or an angry mob would kill soldiers. A call from 911 to the local police reported the leak at 17:04 and the explosion took place at 19:10.  When Pemex first reported the leak, the valve was not initially closed because the leak was not considered to be “important. ” Four hours were needed to extinguish the fire. Residents from the surrounding area were evacuated The explosion was especially fatal because free gas attracted large numbers of people to the breach zone. Residents also said that the lack of gasoline in the area may have led many to attend the scene when they heard about the violation.

The control measures which can be taken to ensure safety are as follows:

  • The pipelines should be designed (e.g. change of material, change in design) in such a manner that is cannot be easily harmed.
  • The authorities who are providing the information to the oil thieves should be suspended and be given punishment of imprisonment which would discourage others from doing so.
  • Instead of spending money on patrolling the pipelines, technology should be used to detect a leak and immediately stop the flow.
  • Rules and protocols should be made by the company to strictly follow procedure in case of leakage.
  • Imprisonment to the people caught buying gasoline from fuel thieves.