Nuevo León Threatens Closure of Pemex Cadereyta Plant
By MARK LORENZANA
A refinery in Cadereyta Jiménez, Nuevo León, owned by state-run oil giant Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) is in danger of being shut down after spewing yellow and black smoke on Sunday, March 19 — just a day after Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and his supporters from his very own leftist ruling party, the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), celebrated on Saturday, March 18, the 85th anniversary of the expropriation of all private oil companies in Mexico, which gave rise to Pemex’s formation in 1938.
As early as the evening of Monday, March 13, residents from the municipalities of Cadereyta Jiménez, Juárez, Guadalupe and Monterrey in Nuevo León complained on various social media networks about “a harsh and pungent odor, which spread for several hours, affecting many people and causing sore throat, eye irritation, nausea and vomiting.”
The Héctor R. Lara Sosa refinery — which is responsible for supplying fuel to the northern part of Mexico — began emitting a dense column of yellow and black smoke at around 1 p.m. on Sunday, according to eyewitnesses reports.
Although yellow is the characteristic color of sulfur, Pemex in a statement explained that the yellow smoke emitted by its refinery in Cadereyta Jiménez “was made up of 99 percent water vapor, while the remaining 1 percent was hydrocarbon remnant, which would have resulted in yellow discoloration.”
The Pemex statement further said that the smoke was a result of a “safe shutdown” of the plant, a “procedure applied preventively, which generated the colorful cloud in the Monterrey metropolitan area for seven minutes” and that “the event did not represent any risk to the population” while reiterating “Pemex’s commitment to the safety of the population and its personnel.”
However, the government of Nuevo León, through its own Secretariat of the Environment, sent a letter to Pemex on Monday, March 20, stating that “ostensible polluting emissions have been detected” in its refinery, and warned about a possible closure of the Cadereyta Jiménez plant.
Nuevo León’s Secretariat of the Environment likewise reported on Sunday that this particular Pemex plant “produces more than 90 percent of the sulfur dioxide in the Nuevo León metropolitan area and generates PM2.5 particles, considered harmful to human health, known to increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, cancer and other illnesses.”
Nuevo León Governor Samuel García of the Citizen’s Movement Party (MC), who on Friday, March 17, initially criticized activists and demonstrators demanding actions against the refinery, said on Monday through a statement that he was not defending Pemex and on the contrary promised strong sanctions for the Sunday incident at the plant. García said that, according to the report filed by Pemex, “the polluting emissions from the refinery were caused by the failure of several compressors.”
“I have never defended, nor am I going to defend, sources of contamination. On the contrary, I am convinced of supporting renewable energy, and ever since, I have been a staunch defender of the environment. I have fought with many sources of contamination, even the Pemex refinery here,” said García. “Terrible videos of the contamination produced by this refinery are circulating, and it is alarming. It is shocking to see that yellowish-gray smoke circulating on social media.”
García added that the first thing he did was “to speak to the director” — without specifying whether it was the director of Pemex or the director of the Cadereyta Jiménez plant — and that he also notified López Obrador of what had happened.
“The manager (of the refinery) told me that some compressors failed, and this caused the operation of the catalytic plant to get out of control, but that it was already controlled in an emergency,” García said. “A representative of the Secretariat of the Environment came, and we in the government of Nuevo León are going to impose strong sanctions for this incident. I hope to later give the Secretariat of the Environment more information about this unfortunate incident, as it becomes available.
In December 2020, the same refinery suffered two gas explosions, causing injuries to five people.
Close to a year later, López Obrador himself visited the plant, which was then undergoing rehabilitation, to carry out an “inspection.”