Monday, September 10, 2007

Breaking: Explosions Rip Mexican Gas Pipelines

photo: Luis Monroy/AP

Sabotage Strongly Suspected

Over 15,000 people have been evacuated as explosions tore apart six natural gas pipelines operated by Mexico's Pemex state oil monopoly early this morning.

Natural gas futures jumped more than 20 cents, but later settled to 5.5 cents at $5.56 per 1,000 cubic feet.

LA Times

No injuries directly related to the explosions were reported, but the blasts forced Pemex to immediately shut down at least four pipelines and federal authorities to close two major roads in the area.

Today's blasts occurred exactly two months after a leftist guerrilla group, the Popular Revolutionary Army, known by its Spanish initials EPR, took responsibility for carrying out bombings of Pemex pipelines in the south-central state of Queretaro.

Though no group has yet claimed credit for today's explosions, political analysts here said they were probably the work of the ERP or a similar group and were a protest against President Felipe Calderon and his policies. Calderon, who is traveling in India, was quick to condemn the explosions as being caused by deliberate acts of violence.

"In the democratic Mexico of today there is no place for these criminal acts," Calderon said in a statement in New Delhi. "Those that attack against the security of Mexico under whatever pretext attack against democracy and against Mexico."

But today's explosions underscored the difficulty the federal government is having in protecting a pipeline system that stretches across multiple states and through many remote areas.

There also is continuing rancor over last year's presidential election, in which Calderon defeated former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, whose supporters claimed widespread voter fraud.

José Antonio Crespo, a political analyst, said the attacks on Pemex reflected the growing "radicalization" of Mexico's far left-wing groups, who believe they have been systematically shut out of institutional political power by the Fox and Calderon administrations, and have turned to increasingly violent forms of protest to make themselves heard.

"This is a direct consequence of what Calderon received as an inheritance of the election, in which he was chosen in a doubtful manner," from his leftist opponents' perspective, Crespo said.

"The government of Felipe Calderon has not done the necessary thing of sending a message to the left of using the institutional path, that yes it can participate in politics, with the possibility of being listened to. But Calderon has sent the opposite message."
The United States only imports a tiny fraction of our natural gas from Mexico -- 0.3% of total imports in 2006.

This explosion won't hurt us directly. It provides us with the opportunity to learn.

What becomes quickly apparent is a distributed system of gas pipe lines running across (what is effectively) hostile territory following a disputed election, can be shut down against an occupying army at will, indefinitely, and with minimal casualties. Even when the citizens are not armed with RPGs and IEDs.

The strategic implications should be obvious.

To anyone capable of learning.