Stations vow to stop pumping gasoline in Mexico

Franchise owners reject contract imposed by Pemex

ROSARITO BEACH – Operations ran smoothly Monday at gasoline and diesel stations in the Tijuana region but that could change dramatically on Wednesday.

On Feb. 1, all gas stations in 20 states, including Baja California, have said they will stop pumping if Pemex suspends delivery to 100 or 200 stations nationwide in a contract dispute.

Pemex, Mexico's state-owner petroleum company, has organized these stations into a new "primary" group to sell gasoline. The franchise owners of those stations, however, have refused to sign a new contract with Pemex, which in turn has threatened to suspend deliveries to them starting Tuesday.

The Mexican Association of Gas Station Owners said that if Pemex suspends delivery to these primary stations, there's an agreement that all stations in at least 20 states will stop pumping gasoline altogether as a protest the following day.

The lower chamber of Mexico's Congress warned that a severe shortage of gasoline and diesel would result in those states if Pemex goes ahead with its suspension plan.

The chamber's deputies said that Mexico's Supreme Court is to rule on the constitutionality of the new contract, which seeks to fundamentally change the relationship between Pemex and the owners of the primary stations.

In Tijuana, the association of owners, which together have 90 stations, said that they had enough fuel on hand to last through the week.

Sources within the Pemex distribution plant in Rosarito Beach, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said employees there had not been told of a possible suspension of service.

They said the plant had enough fuel to supply stations in Tijuana, Tecate and Rosarito Beach for the rest of the week.

In the summer of 2008, operational problems at Pemex led to a severe diesel shortage in Baja California, which stranded cargo trucks and public transportation for a time, causing significant economic losses.

A leading economist, Alejandro Díaz Bautista, said an energy shortage is possible in Baja California and the other states if Pemex makes good on its threat to stop supplying the primary stations.

"The warning signs are flashing red for such a crisis," said Bautista, a professor at the College of the Northern Border and a researcher for the National Council of Science and Technology.

The economist said more than 2,500 stations would be affected in Baja California that provide fuel to hundreds of thousands of consumers.

He noted that the validity of the new contracts is going to be reviewed by Mexico's Supreme Court, however Pemex, backed by the Energy Department, insists on carrying them out.

A congressional commission urged the department and Pemex to not suspend deliveries of gasoline and diesel to any stations starting Tuesday.

The commission urged both entities to give the Supreme Court time to rule on the constitutionality of the new contract.

omar.millan@sandiegored.com

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