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'Perfect storm' causing gasoline shortages in Mexico: analyst

Mexico City — Pemex said Monday it has planned "additional volumes of gasoline imports in order to regularize supplies" in several states following what one analyst described as a "perfect storm" of shortages involving red tape and crime.

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The state company traditionally prides itself in ensuring supplies of all fuels to industry and consumers. But long lines have formed in recent weeks at the pumps of the service stations that still have gasoline on sale.

The problems have arisen in at least half a dozen states, though not in Mexico City, with its population of 20 million.

Pemex cited several factors for the shortages, including a new billing system that has failed to register the orders made by service stations for new supplies.

Another reason, in the area around the northern industrial capital of Monterrey, is that the Cadereyta refinery there is undergoing major maintenance.

And in northern border states as Coahuila, thieves have intensified the illegal siphoning of gasoline from pipelines, Pemex said.

But Arturo Carranza, an analyst for the Mexico City-based Solana consultancy, dismissed the siphoning explanation.

"The black market in gasoline is worth about $1.5 billion a year at the last count. It's by no means a new phenomenon," Carranza said.

The Cadereyta maintenance was to have been covered by extra gasoline imports, "but sources at PMI, the international trading arm of Pemex, said they couldn't bring in more because of logistical problems," Carranza said.

The billing issue was the result of a website that was not fully functional, he said.

"The managers of the service stations had to send their requests to a web page that wasn't working for much of the time," Carranza said, adding the recent woes have created a "perfect storm" resulting in the shortages.

Pemex is the only refiner and gasoline retailer in Mexico. Under last year's energy reform, a free market in gasoline and other fuels is to be phased between next year and 2019.

--Ronald Buchanan,
--Edited by Kevin Saville,