Attacks on Mexico's oil, natural gas infrastructure increase

Published 12 September 2007

Mexico has a 30,000-mile network of energy pipelines; the network is exceedingly vulnerable to attacks; a shadowy terrorist group takes advantage, injuring the country’s economy

We have reported in the past few weeks about the growing number of attacks by a small leftist guerrilla group in Mexico against that country’s oil and natural gas infrastructure and other commercial interests. The group, the People’s Revolutionary Army, or EPR, took responsibility Tuesday for these attacks on oil and gas pipelines — the most recent ones on Sunday, with six blasts aimed at natural gas pipelines — which forced factories across the country to scale back or close for lack of energy supplies. A communique sent to Mexican media from the EPR said the attacks were intended to force the release of two of the group’s leaders, whom the rebels believe are held by President Felipe Calderon’s government. “Our political-military action will not stop until our disappeared/detained comrades are presented alive,” said the communique signed by the EPR’s “General Command.” Demands for release of the two men followed similar attacks in central Mexico in July against pipelines owned by the government petroleum monopoly Pemex. State and federal officials have said they have no knowledge of the men’s whereabouts.

Scores of factories in Mexico City and the nearby city of Puebla were forced to shut down Tuesday for lack of natural gas as repair crews scrambled to fix the bombed pipelines and valve stations in Veracruz state. The explosions idled more than three-fourths of the 11,000 workers at Volkswagen’s manufacturing plant in Puebla. Other factories shut down in the Mexico City area and as far away as Guadalajara and Monterrey. Jesus Reyes Heroles, Pemex’s chief executive, said in a nationally broadcast radio interview that Mexico’s 30,000-mile network of energy pipelines are vulnerable to similar attacks. About 2,400 miles of that grid, included the large natural gas line hit Monday, is considered strategic to the Mexican economy. “To think they can be protected though the presence of the company or the armed forces is impossible,” Reyes Heroles said of the pipelines.

Sunday’s attacks displayed a sophistication and a knowledge of Mexico’s pipeline networks, said analyst George Baker, whose Houston-based firm,, tracks Pemex and Mexican energy production. “There’s somebody with technical knowledge of Pemex’s distribution system who is involved in this operation,” said Baker, whose firm conducted a comprehensive study of Mexico’s energy pipeline network last year. “It wasn’t just a random selection of pipelines.” Baker said the most effective explosion hit a 48-inch pipeline near the city of Orizaba, which supplies natural gas to Puebla, Mexico City, and other manufacturing centers. The line is only two natural gas pipelines of its size in Mexico. Baker said, however, that the bombing of an empty auxiliary pipeline, used to reroute gas when the main duct is being repaired or cleaned, suggests the saboteurs were not completely knowledgeable about the system.

Still, the level of sophitication, coordination, and inside knowledge charcaterizing the attacks led to specualte that there is more here than meets the eye:

All of this adds up to a specific attack on Mexico’s economy at one of its most vulnerable energy points. Whoever did this thought it through and has a disturbingly malevolent strategy for crippling Mexico. It may mean that more than just the leftist EPR is behind this. It could mean sponsorship by an outside Marxist government.

Without offering any proof, the publication suggests Cuba and Venezuela as possibly being behind the spate of atacks.

Michael: The text below should be in a blue box


The EPR, which has operated in parts of Oaxaca and neighboring Guerrero state, formed from the remnants of another organization active in the 1970s and 1980s. EPR militants first appeared in June 1996 at an event commemorating the anniversary of a massacre of farmers by state police outside Acapulco. A few months after its debut, the EPR shocked Mexico by launching coordinated but unsuccessful attacks on the Oaxaca beach resort of Huatulco and other state towns. Government forces killed dozens of the attackers and later arrested scores of suspected guerrillas and their sympathizers. The EPR subsequently splintered into factions and largely disappeared following a 1998 army massacre of about a dozen peasant sympathizers meeting with guerrillas in a remote village outside Acapulco. But the group reappeared last year amid civil strife in the Oaxaca state capital, claiming responsibility for bombing Mexico City banks.

The bombings of the banks and pipelines, all of which have occurred in the early morning hours, have been calculated to avoid human injury, the group’s communique said. The EPR claims its missing militants — whom it identified as Edmundo Reyes Amaya and Gabriel Alberto Cruz Sanchez — were grabbed in late May by either state or federal security forces in Oaxaca state. Those names are believed to be aliases used by EPR founders.