Image credits: Selim Arda Erylmaz
News Article

Oil Spills Raise Question of Pipeline Safety and Maintenance

By Kristelle Gutiérrez | Wed, 06/01/2022 - 10:09

Over the past decade, oil spills have become a somewhat commonplace occurrence in production key sites like the Gulf of Mexico, where the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, one of largest oil spills in record history, took place in April 2010 on the US side. More recently, on the Mexican side, a fire erupted near the PEMEX’s Ku-Maloob-Zaap offshore platform complex. The state-owned company blamed the incident on a gas leak from an underwater pipeline, which was then dubbed as an “eye of fire” on social media due to the blaze’s circular shape. Following the incident, environmentalists continue to see problems with the pipeline maintenance approach of key oil companies.

According to President López Obrador, it took PEMEX more than five hours to put out the fire as the NOC needed to close interconnection valves in the pipeline to control the gas leak as firefighting vessels nearby to put out the blaze.

Events like these bring attention to how major oil companies like PEMEX maintain infrastructure like aging oil and gas pipelines, which lack proper maintenance. “The risk that many oil sites are taking is evident, as is the lack of maintenance that is required to ensure the environment’s safety and people’s wellbeing,” said Greenpeace Mexico after the Ku-Maloob-Zaap incident.

Civil organizations and environmental scientists have sought to raise awareness as well. In Oct. 2021, Juan Andrés Escobar Soto, Chemical Researcher, UNAM, called out the government for failing to provide the maintenance that PEMEX’s oil pipelines require, since most of the infrastructure in states like Hidalgo have not been maintained for up to 40 years. A growing number of incidents ensued in the state, like the gas leak in Tepeji and the oil spill in Teapepulco.

The list of precautions that should be followed by major oil and gas companies does not end there, as building materials also constitute a common threat to the integrity of the pipeline infrastructure. A recent article published by The Intelligencer notes that “pipelines constructed of cast and wrought iron, as well as bare steel, are among those pipelines that pose the highest risk.” Escobar Soto noted that the chemical components found in fossil fuels easily degrade the pipeline materials, which tend to only last for up to 20 years.

Another common issue is the scarce transparency and accountability regarding oil and gas operations. According to an investigation led by the NGO CartoCrítica, “in Mexico there are no direct measurements of the hydrocarbons sector’s level of emissions. There is no system to conduct efficient surveillance, so it is impossible to verify that the installations are currently in an adequate state,” concluded the report.

Furthermore, Lorenzo Álvarez Filip, Researcher, UNAM, emphasized the urgency with which companies like PEMEX should not only provide fully transparent information on these types of incidents, but also actively speak to the general population about the maintenance of its infrastructure. “Monitoring should be systematic, strategic and open … [because] there is probably sufficient data, however it is not necessarily disclosed to the public, which is fundamental,” added Álvarez.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
CartoCrítica, El Sol de Hidalgo, Mongabay, Reuters, The Intelligencer.
Photo by:   Selim Arda Erylmaz
Kristelle Gutiérrez Kristelle Gutiérrez Junior Journalist & Industry Analyst