February 9, 2011 / 11:22 PM / 8 years ago

RPT-Mexico pipeline thieves trigger big fuel spill

(Repeats to fix typo in headline, no change to text)

* Large diesel fuel spill reported south of Tijuana

* Pemex blames thieves for pipeline rupture

By Lizbeth Diaz

ROSARITO, Mexico, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Thieves tapping into a Mexican fuel pipeline triggered a large diesel fuel spill south of the border city of Tijuana in Baja California state on Wednesday, authorities said.

A senior source at the state emergencies agency, which has dealt with a number of fuel spills in recent years due to criminal activity, described the incident as serious.

“There cannot be less than 50,000 liters (13,000 gallons) spilled,” the official said, declining to be named since he was not authorized to comment on the size of the spill.

“We’ve never seen anything like this.”

A Reuters witness saw a three-foot (1 meter) stream of fuel flowing on hilly ranch land a few miles (kilometers) from Rosarito.

Police prevented people from approaching the pipeline but bulldozers could be seen working furiously to build huge piles of earth to contain and absorb the flow of fuel. The odor of petroleum was extremely intense.

Gangs of fuel thieves regularly tap into Pemex pipelines to steal gasoline, diesel fuel and even crude oil. [ID:nN19224981]

The lucrative trade has attracted Mexico’s brutal drug cartels, which earn money protecting fuel thieves and helping them smuggle oil out of the country.

Thirty people died in December when a suspected illegal connection on a crude oil pipeline east of Mexico City caused a massive spill that caught fire and exploded.

State oil monopoly Pemex [PEMX.UL] said in a press release it was responding to the spill and that it posed no risk to bodies of waters or urban areas.

The 10-inch (25-centimeter) diameter pipeline carries fuel from a Pemex terminal in Rosarito to the city of Mexicali.

Pemex did not say how much fuel leaked from the pipeline.

The company claims it has cut the amount of oil that is stolen through better monitoring of its pipeline network even though the number of illegal connections has skyrocketed to more than 700 a year. (Writing by Robert Campbell and Robin Emmott; Editing by David Gregorio)

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