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Environment News: Mexico Goes for Gulf OilSalem-News.com
The Mexican navy has announced it is on alert and ready to participate in any actions needed to counter the oil slick.
(LAS CRUCES, N.M.) - A Delaware-sized oil slick contaminating the Gulf of Mexico hasn’t stopped Mexican plans to extract more of the black gold from ocean waters. Even as the United States grappled with the environmental disaster spawned from last month’s explosion/fire at the Deepwater Horizon platform operated by British Petroleum off the Louisiana coast, an official with the Mexican National Oil Company (Pemex) announced this week plans to outsource as many as 14 new contracts to foreign companies for oil exploitation in the Gulf of Mexico. “The goal is to award the first contracts by the end of 2010,” said Carlos Morales, director of exploration and production for Pemex.
Downplaying a legal challenge in Mexico’s Supreme Court that contests a 2008 reform which permitted outsourcing some oil production, Morales suggested the high court would uphold the Constitutional change enacted by the Mexican Congress. “We can’t wait,” he said.
Several factors explain Mexico’s renewed push for Gulf oil. With older wells declining in output, Pemex seeks to tap into new gushers to keep an industry pumping that ranks as the number one source of Mexico's legal foreign exchange and provides the bulk of revenue for the country’s federal budget. Further, Mexico is racing to produce more Gulf oil at a moment when foreign energy companies like Shell and Chevron are beginning to drill closer to Mexican territorial waters.
“This is worrisome,” said oil industry expert Fabio Barbosa. “They are shared deposits and the resources belong to the two nations.” A new Mexico-US agreement on exploitation of the Gulf’s oil resources remains pending on the binational agenda between the two countries.
Meanwhile, a prominent Mexican environmental group warned this week against offshore drilling. Calling on countries to avoid repeating the Deepwater Horizon disaster by turning to renewable energy sources, Greenpeace Mexico said the ongoing oil spill could seriously threaten the Gulf of Mexico’s rich biodiversity.
According to the environmental organization, the Gulf contains five million acres of critical wetlands and provides habitat for 228 birds, including many migratory species. The Gulf, Greenpeace noted, hosts 29 species of marine mammals, five kinds of sea turtles, and a variety of edible creatures ranging from shellfish to tuna.
Approximately 40 percent of the sea food consumed in Mexico and nearly 16 percent of the sea food consumed in the US comes from the Gulf, according to the green group.
“Both governments should closely monitor the sea food harvested in the Gulf to guarantee that it is fit for human consumption,” Greenpeace urged.
The Deepwater Horizon calamity occurred at a time when portions of the Gulf were already environmentally stressed due to the growth of so-called “dead zones,” an ecological phenomenon in which algae blooms linked to the use of nitrogen fertilizers favored by US agribusiness deplete oxygen and leave waters virtually devoid of marine life. Covering an estimated 20,000 square miles, 150 such zones have appeared off the coasts of Louisiana, Texas and the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas.
The oil slick has not threatened Mexican waters so far. Mexican officials, however, are keeping a tab on the disaster and have prepared contingency plans if changes in weather and ocean currents send the slick towards their country’s shores. Mexican Environment Secretary Rafael Elvira Quesada and US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar have been in communication about possible joint collaborations, and the Mexican navy has announced it is on alert and ready to participate in any actions needed to counter the oil slick.
Citing the US Minerals and Management Service, Inter Press Service recently reported that 858 explosions and fires, and 69 offshore deaths, have been connected to the oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico since 2001. In the Deepwater Horizon incident, 11 workers were reported missing and presumed dead.
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