You might say Mexican state-owned petroleum company Pemex had a bad day Thursday. As Reuters reported, there were fires at three different facilities owned by the company — two in Mexico and one in Texas. And while there are still some unknowns, in an update, the wire service gives what details are known:

(Reuters) – A Thursday night fire at Pemex’s 312,500 barrel-per-day (bpd) Deer Park, Texas refinery broke out in a crude distillation unit (CDU), said people familiar with plant operations.

The sources did not know which of two Deer Park CDUs were hit by fire. The plant has a 270,000-bpd and 70,000-bpd CDU, which break down crude oil into feedstocks for all other refining units.

Pemex was assessing on Friday the damage to the refinery from the fire, the sources said.

The Deer Park fire was one of three to strike Pemex facilities in Mexico and the United States on Thursday.

Five people were unaccounted for in a blaze a [sic] storage facility in the Mexican state of Veracruz that also sent three people to a hospital, while a separate fire at its Minatitlan refinery, also in Veracruz, was under control after injuring five people.

With the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, and a spate of other industrial accidents/spills recently, you’d be forgiven if, perhaps, your thoughts wandered to the conspiratorial.

But there may be an couple simple explanations that don’t require anyone to put on a tin foil hat. One is that this is nothing new for Pemex. In July 2021, my colleague Nick Arama wrote about an amazing sight in the Gulf of Mexico — an “eye of fire” in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico near the Yucatan peninsula — which, it turned out, had a terrible cause.

Arama wrote:

A pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico off the Yucatan peninsula ruptured and caused a massive fire in the water Friday. The incident has now gone viral around the world because of the stunning visuals, showing an “eye of fire” in the water, right next to an oil platform, looking like molten lava. The fire began in an underwater pipeline connected to the platform at Pemex’s Ku Maloob Zaap oil facility.

It appears Pemex has a bad track record on safety issues, as Arama also shared:

Pemex also has a long history of “major industrial accidents at its facilities,” according to Reuters.

But, there could be another simple explanation: in at least one previous incident involving Pemex, in 2010, authorities found that the explosion of one of their pipelines was caused by thieves trying to steal oil.

Marco Ugarte

The AP caption on the above image reads:

Firefighters extend a hose through the street as they respond to an oil pipeline explosion in San Martin Texmelucan, Mexico, Sunday Dec. 19, 2010. An oil pipeline operated by Mexico’s state-owned oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, exploded early Sunday when thieves were attempting to steal oil, killing at least 27 people, injuring at least 52 people and scorching more than 115 homes, authorities said.

CNN reported in an update that the theft attempt might be connected to powerful drug cartels:

The cause of Sunday’s explosion in San Martin Texmelucan, in Puebla state, was under investigation, but preliminary reports pointed to the illegal extraction of oil from the pipe, said Laura Gurza, coordinator for civil protection in Puebla.

Oil theft has been a persistent problem for Pemex, and has been on the rise since President Felipe Calderon took office. A Washington Post investigation found that drug cartels were increasingly diversifying into other areas, including oil theft, to the tune of more than $1 billion in a two-year period.

Right now, it isn’t clear what caused the recent fires. We’ll keep you posted.

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