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Sempra Gets Favorable Mexican Court Ruling on LNG Plant

A Mexican federal judge in the 10th District Court in Ensenada has permanently blocked the City of Ensenada from attempting to shut operations at Sempra Energy's Energia Costa Azul liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving terminal along the Pacific Coast of North Baja California. Other litigation by an adjacent landowner remains unresolved, although Sempra maintains that it will eventually prevail.

The latest court ruling grants a "permanent suspension" against Ensenada's municipal government, protecting the Costa Azul facility from any future shutdown attempts, a San Diego-based Sempra LNG spokesperson told NGI.

In response to a Sempra filing earlier this year, a Mexican federal judge in March granted the Sempra LNG facility a second protective order against local government officials and adjacent private landowners, who had tried to shut down the terminal in the early weeks of 2011 (see Daily GPI, March 17).

The action by the federal Mexican court judge June 14 ratified an "interim suspension" order that was granted to Sempra's LNG facility back in February when City of Ensenada law enforcement personnel swarmed onto the terminal site north of Ensenada (see Daily GPI, Feb. 18).

Sempra drew substantial governmental and business support in Mexico in the wake of the unsuccessful attempt by Ensenada's new mayor to seize the U.S. energy holding company's terminal (operations at the facility continued without interruption). At one point, a small group of Mexican Army troops was on the site, and the government kept them in place until it was determined that the facility was secure.

Since that time, the Sempra LNG spokesperson said, the terminal has not experienced "any disruptions in service and it is in full compliance with all laws, rules and regulations in Mexico."

Sempra believes that the Ensenada closure attempt last February "was a direct consequence" of a long-standing legal complaint made by an alleged land squatter, Ramon Eugenio Sanchez Ritchie, whom Sempra officials allege has tried to extort money from the energy holding company. "There is nothing new to report in terms of [the Sanchez Ritchie] land dispute litigation," the Sempra spokesperson said.

Sanchez Ritchie last summer challenged various federal, state and local permits held by the Sempra LNG terminal. "In that case, we are awaiting an appellate court ruling on Sanchez Ritchie's appeal of the court's denial of the permanent suspension he requested in that case," the Sempra spokesperson said. "Once that is resolved, we expect that the constitutional hearing will be scheduled."

Also pending is a municipal administrative proceeding in Ensenada regarding Sanchez Ritchie's request that Sempra LNG's municipal permits be suspended. That proceeding is stayed pending the resolution of the federal permit challenge, the spokesperson said.

In December a U.S. District Court in San Diego dismissed a lawsuit by Sanchez Ritchie. A similar challenge to Sempra LNG has been dormant in a Mexican court, pending a new hearing date. In the U.S. decision, federal District Court Judge Janis Sammartino said Sanchez Ritchie wrongly singled out Sempra for actions taken by the Mexican government.

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