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Mexico Earthquake Said to Spare Natural Gas, Oil Infrastructure

The strongest earthquake in Mexico in more than a century, which struck near midnight on Thursday, initially appears to have spared the natural gas and oil industry.

Many operators reported Friday that no installations were damaged and normal operations were continuing following the quake, which measured 8.2 on the Richter scale.

The Mexican Natural Gas Association (MNGA) said the nation's gas pipelines and distribution systems are under surveillance at all times. The systems use polyethylene and steel that are certified to resist the impact of earth tremors in susceptible areas like Mexico City, where thousands of people were killed in 1985 when an 8.0 earthquake struck.

MNGA President Lorena Patterson of TransCanada Corp. said pipeline security valves are closed automatically when prescribed limits near.

In its official Twitter account, state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) said early Friday installations appeared to not be affected. However, inspections continue.

Pemex also said Friday a refinery in Mexico’s largest port in Salina Cruz on the Pacific had been given the all-clear after close inspection. Salina Cruz is in Oaxaca, where early reports indicated most of the reported 32 deaths from the quake occurred.

The 1985 disaster killed thousands, and the Mexico City region was disrupted for months. Seismologists have yet to explain the difference between the two quakes, but the 1985 quake originated from a different region of Mexico, running directly to Mexico City from Acapulco on the Pacific Coast.

The latest earthquake apparently originated in the southern state of Chiapas and neighboring Oaxaca. Mexico City itself was less impacted.

Alejandro Hope, a former officer the Mexican intelligence service Cisen, also noted an important difference in response to the impact of the two big quakes.

"Lots of things in this country aren't making progress," Hope wrote in his Twitter account, "but the civil protection system is not one of them. Compared with 1985, the difference now is enormous."

Meanwhile, Mexico’s power utility, the Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE), said Friday afternoon it had a contingency plan in operation to meet Hurricane Katia, which was expected to make landfall late Friday or early Saturday on the northern Gulf Coast. Katia on Friday afternoon was reported by Mexican water authority Conagua to be 115 kilometers (71.5 miles) from Tuxpan in the state of Veracruz at 1 p.m. CDT. Tuxpan is the port of entry for Mexico’s rapidly growing imports of gasoline and other fuels.

Thousands of people had been moved by the armed forces to seek refuge in schools, hotels and other buildings where food and shelter was being offered. The CFE said it has more than 200 specialized vehicles and 19 emergency power plants.

Conagua said it fears massive flooding in the wake of Katia’s arrival, with mudslides and disruption of highways. 

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