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During the first quarter of 2021, Mexico’s state-owned oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) released 50.8 more waste gas into the environment compared to the same period in 2020, reaching the highest average in 12 years, according to the government’s own sources.

On average, in the January-to-March 2021 period, 712 million cubic feet of natural gas were released into the environment each day, the highest figure recorded for any quarter since the July-to-September 2009 quarter, when the comparable figure was 1,997 million cubic feet of gas per day.

According to a report released by Pemex on Friday, April 30, the total percentage of waste gas released during the first quarter of this year was 14.9 percent, compared to 9.7 percent in the first quarter of 2020.

A report in Reforma newspaper pointed out the relevance of the waste of natural gas, considering that the national production of the hydrocarbon is extremely low and the fact that Mexico currently imports 96 percent of the gas it consumes.

Jorge Sierra, an independent specialist in the energy sector who spoke with Reforma, explained that liquids and gases are obtained in the process of exploitation of a reservoir, and the utilization capacity of those hydrocarbons depends on the infrastructure that is in place to separate natural gas from other gases and transfer or reinject it.

“If production exceeds treatment capacity, an oil well company is forced to burn off or release more gas into the atmosphere,” he said.

“The pressure on Pemex to increase, or at least maintain, oil production, means that it continues to operate wells that have a very high gas-oil ratio. In some cases, Pemex continues to operate wells where gas production is greater than that of oil.”

Consequently, Pemex’s production of waste gas continues to increase, he said.

Despite constant pledges from the government to “clean up” its waste gas burn-off, Pemex is still allowed to pull billions of cubic feet of natural gas from the ground and simply set it on fire.

Additionally, methane, the main substance in natural gas, and its emissions contribute to air pollution and global warming.

Methane, Sierra explained, is a powerful greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential that generates an impact 80 times greater than carbon dioxide.

A recent study by scientists from the Environmental Defense Fund and Research Centers indicates that exceptionally high levels of methane contamination have been observed escaping from hydrocarbon facilities in Chiapas, Tabasco, Veracruz and along the coast of Campeche.

“These emissions came mainly from the burning of unused natural gas as a result of an inefficient infrastructure in the hydrocarbon sector,” the study said.

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