Control of oil behind Mexico-Spain tensions
Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Feb. 9 called for a "pause" in relations with Spain, in a speech that explicitly invoked the legacy of colonialism going back to the Conquest. But the speech was clearly aimed principally at Spanish oil company Repsol, which had been favored during the presidential term of Felipe Calderón. Specifically, López Obrador questioned the granting of gas contracts in the Burgos Basin, in Mexico's northeast. He charged that Repsol operated the fields less productively than the state company Pemex had. "In the end, less gas was extracted than Pemex extracted" before the contracts, he charged.
The director of Pemex, Octavio Romero Oropeza, added that the Spanish firm had "all the advantages" in the Burgos contracts.
López Obrador also made reference to the Camisea project, which delivers gas to the Mexican port of Manzanillo from fields operated by a consortium including Repsol in the Peruvian Amazon. According to the Mexican president, the 2007 Camisea contract had not even been signed when "Repsol was already buying the gas in Peru, assuring that it had already been sold in Mexico." (Europa Press)
On Feb. 7, Spain's high court, the Audiencia Nacional, accepted appeals to re-open formal investigations into Repsol chair Antonio Brufau and Isidro Faine, former chair of Valencia's Caixabank. The investigation, which had been suspended by a lower court, was exploring charges that Repsol and Caixabank hired Grupo Cenyt, a security firm belonging to Spain's former national police chief Jose Manuel Villarejo, to spy on the then chair of Madrid construction company Sacyr, Luis del Rivero, in 2011 and 2012. The alleged aim was to block a joint takeover bid for Repsol launched by Sacyr and Pemex. (Jurist, Reuters, EuroNews)
The chronically mismanaged Burgos fields were opened to private development followiing a 2013 reform of the energy sector in Mexico. The initial Repsol contract was for exploitation in the onshore portion of the basin, straddling the states of Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas. In 2018, Repsol won leases in the offshore section as well. (S&P Global)
The onshore section had been particularly subject to the phenomenon of "narco-oil," with criminal organizations pirating petrol and gas for sale on the illicit market. This remains a serious problem today. At least one person was killed and over a dozen injured when a Pemex pipeline in the central state of Puebla exploded last October, after it was breached by suspected fuel pirates. (Digital Journal)
Repsol is also currently under fire in Peru following a devastating oil spill at a refinery it operates outside Lima.