Wild cats, boa & # 39; s are obstacles in the Mexican president's refinery race The Wider Image


Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's race to build an oil refinery in record time on land that until recently was still alive with mangrove, wild cats and boa constrictors, has been in trouble, making his efforts difficult for the ailing state oil company Pemex new to breathe life.

Even before Lopez Obrador took office last December, the protected forests began cutting back on the Pemex site on the coast of the state of Tabasco to make way for the new refinery next to the Dos Bocas harbor.

. Paraiso, Mexico. Reuters / Alexandre Meneghini

A worker rests in a hammock in an area that belongs to the state-owned oil company Pemex.

But the environmental regulator of the oil industry, ASEA, ruled in January that the contractor who deforested the land did not have the proper permits to do so. The body has a fine of about $ 700,000. ASEA says that work on the refinery can only continue if a full environmental impact assessment has been carried out and approved.

That could delay the refinery project for months or even years, just as the government is trying to increase oil production by giving the state a greater role in the industry, modernizing refineries and building the new ones in Tabasco, the home state of Lopez Obrador.

Gustavo Alanis, chairman of the lobby group of the Mexican Center for Environmental Law, said that Pemex will encounter legal problems if it continues to rush over the planned Dos Bocas refinery.

. Paraiso, Mexico. Reuters / Alexandre Meneghini

A sign in an area owned by the state-owned oil company Pemex reads in Spanish: & # 39; Federal ownership – Pemex exploration and production & # 39 ;.

"If they act quickly without regard to the laws they have to follow, they will become their own worst enemy," he said.

The government has announced that it plans to launch a tender in March for the construction of the $ 8 billion refinery and to complete it in three years. Pemex has not responded to requests for comments for this article.

The country, near the city of Paraiso, where the new refinery is planned, was planted with coconut and citrus fruit in the 1970s and expropriated by Pemex. But the company never used the terrain and the tropical forest and animal life took over.

. Paraiso, Mexico. Reuters / Alexandre Meneghini

Pelicans gather in the Mecoacan lagoon near Paraiso.

Several species of plovers, herons and hawks, two species of iguanas and other reptiles, protected amphibians, endangered species of snakes and pipelayers, which are threatened with extinction, were identified in Paraiso by Conabio, a government commission charged with studying biodiversity. .

Footprints of the jaguarundi, a wild cat, were found at the site, told ASEA to Reuters, along with a wide variety of bird species and freshwater turtles.

The country was so rich in wildlife about a decade ago that a group of Pemex managers suggested that it be called a private nature reserve to prevent future construction work there, according to company sources. A study by a government institute a few years ago concluded that Paraiso was a risky location for a refinery because of the biodiversity that has been found.

But the satellite photo's made in November and obtained from Conabio show that a wide strip of mangrove has been cut down over the site, leaving a smaller perimeter of the forest.

By the time Lopez Obrador came to Dos Bocas to announce the new refinery in December, muddy ground and heavy duty machines had replaced the thick tree structure of the site.

After the land was released, four endangered or protected species were saved, including a kind of porcupine, a boa constrictor and a rare iguana. Reuters could not determine the fate of the other animals that the agency discovered on the site.

. Paraiso, Mexico. Reuters / Alexandre Meneghini

Fisherman Carlos Reyes catches oysters in a mangrove area near the Mecoacan lagoon.

The oyster fishermen of Paraiso fear that the refinery could damage the Mecoacan lagoon a few kilometers from the refinery, and their main source of income for several generations.

. Puerto Ceiba, Mexico. Reuters / Alexandre Meneghini

Fisherman Manuel de la Cruz (middle) speaks during an interview in Puerto Ceiba.

"What we want is that they do not damage the lagoon," said Manuel de la Cruz, a leading local fisherman, who has worked on the waterway since he was eight years old. He said that in December he handed over a document to Lopez Obrador, in which he says that fishermen want more than just "crumbs" of government support.

. Paraiso, Mexico. Reuters / Alexandre Meneghini

The new president of Mexico Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gestures to an event to reveal his plan for oil refining in Paraiso.

Lopez Obrador has not commented on the ASEA ruling in January on the clearance of the country. In his statement, the environmental regulator also ordered the replanting of a larger mangrove area, whose location has yet to be determined, and the launch of a nature conservation program.

Mexican energy minister Rocio Nahle initially said that the mangrove had not been touched on the Paraiso site. She said that in November the city council and the state government had given permits to "clean" the site.

. Paraiso, Mexico. Reuters / Alexandre Meneghini

A view of an inactive oyster farm on the Mecoacan lagoon.

Only ASEA can provide the permits required for Pemex to build an industrial project on the site.

The potential delay of the refinery comes at a crucial moment for Pemex.

Last week, the government announced a bailout of $ 3.9 billion to prevent an imminent loss of the company's credit rating.

Review agencies say that Lopez Obrador's plans to reform Pemex are revitalizing the already problematic finances. Rating agency Fitch says that Pemex & insolvencies & # 39; is.

. Paraiso, Mexico. Reuters / Alexandre Meneghini

A chimney at the raw oil terminal Dos Bocas near a mangroves area in Paraiso.