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By David Alire Garcia and Marianna Parraga
ACAPULCO, Sept 26 (Reuters) - Mexican state-run oil company Pemex expects to begin importing up to 100,000 barrels per day of light crude oil, likely from the United States, from late October and at least until the end of November, its chief executive said on Wednesday.
“A hundred thousand barrels (per day) more or less is what we’re going to import to process and incorporate into our refineries, mostly at Salina Cruz,” Pemex CEO Carlos Trevino said in an interview with Reuters on the sidelines of the Mexican Petroleum Congress in Acapulco.
The imports, planned to run through at least the end of President Enrique Pena Nieto’s tenure in office on Nov. 30, mark a stark shift for historically major crude exporter Mexico, where decades of oil self-sufficiency are a badge of pride.
Years of under investment and declining crude output have severely hampered Mexico’s refineries and helped necessitate the move.
Salina Cruz, like Pemex’s other five refineries, has recently been producing far below capacity due to accidents and operational problems, as well as Pemex’s focus on maximizing the value of its oil even if that means refining less domestically.
“We’re going to mix it with Mexican crude, with some of our mix to be able to process at the levels we want to get back to in refining. We should be around 800,000 barrels (per day of refining in the country’s entire system) by the end of the year,” he added.
Mexico’s refining network can process up to 1.6 million bpd of crude. It has been working this year at around 40 percent.
Trevino said he expects auctions of oil exploration and production blocks scheduled for February, which include the selection of key partners for Pemex, will take place as planned.
“I think there is total certainty” that Mexico’s oil regulator, the National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH), will carry out the auctions.
Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said that oil auctions are suspended until contracts already awarded over the past few years have been reviewed, but he has not specifically weighed in on the February tenders.
Pemex, whose oil production and refining volumes have continued declining this year amid the depletion of some of its main oilfields, will not meet its crude output target of 1.95 million barrels per day in 2018.
“We’re going to be considerably below that,” Trevino told reporters at the conference later in the evening, declining to provide a specific volume.
He expects another year of production decline in 2019, even though Pemex had originally planned to stabilize output by then.
Lopez Obrador, who takes office on Dec. 1, handily won Mexico’s presidential election in part by promising sweeping changes to Mexico’s energy industry. His energy team has signaled they want Pemex to select its own partners instead of having them chosen in auctions run by the CNH.
Trevino said the new process would be “easier,” underscoring that the current selection process “costs us time.” (Writing by Anthony Esposito; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Richard Pullin)