In response to a filing by the energy company, a Mexican federal judge last Friday granted San Diego-based Sempra Energy's liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in North Baja California a second protective order against local government officials and adjacent private landowners who have tried to shut down the Energia Costa Azul LNG terminal in past months (see NGI, Feb. 18).

Sempra LNG said the city of Ensenada, which is located south of the plant along the Pacific Coast, was ordered by the judge to allow the LNG facility to operate following the company's submittal of evidence in court. On Wednesday, Sempra said a federal district court in Ensenada subsequently issued an injunction -- called a "definitive suspension" in Mexico -- further strengthening earlier action on a provisional suspension in March.

"We decided to seek another level of protection from the Mexican federal court system, given that the Ensenada mayor attempted to close our LNG terminal [Feb. 11] in direct violation of a federal court order, and in spite of receiving a letter from the [Mexican federal government's] Comision Regulatora de Energia (CRE) warning him that such actions are outside his jurisdiction," a Sempra LNG spokesperson told NGI on Tuesday.

Sempra's Mexican LNG terminal has been immersed in litigation on both sides of the border since last June, and those cases are all still pending a final resolution, although the U.S.-based energy holding company has won all of the preliminary skirmishes so far. The latest decision by the court Wednesday stays any action by the Ensenada mayor or other local officials against the terminal. It is effective until a further hearing is held on another Sempra request for a longer term injunction that would stop any actions by local officials, the spokesperson said.

The earlier amparo (Mexican constitutional challenge) sought by an adjacent landowner, Ramon Eugenio Sanchez Ritchie, has no date set for what the Mexican system calls a constitutional hearing. Similarly, a case filed in a U.S. district court in San Diego against Sempra by Sanchez Ritchie is still awaiting a final hearing after it was initially dismissed by the court. Sanchez Ritchie filed an amended complaint in January and Sempra subsequently filed another motion for the judge to dismiss the case.

In the past, Sempra LNG executives have accused Sanchez Ritchie of engaging in "a long-running campaign, financed by others, to discredit Sempra." Sempra LNG's CEO Darcel Hulse accused him and his backers of "misusing the judicial, political and regulatory processes of Mexico in an attempt to extract money from the company" (see Daily GPI, June 22, 2010).

On Tuesday Sempra's spokesperson said there was little interest on the U.S. side of the border in the latest story, and that was why the company initially only notified the news media in Mexico of the judge's ruling.

Sempra attributed the latest action to 11th District Judge Juan Manuel Garcia Figueroa in Mexico's Federal Judicial Branch, noting that an amparo was issued for a second time as part of a lawsuit seeking the protective ruling by Sempra on behalf of the LNG facility and specifically against Ensenada mayor.

Sempra presented the judge with evidence that it had provided "all permits, licenses, authorizations and resolutions in force...and others required by the law or regulations." The judge specifically forbid the mayor from blocking the use of the LNG site for its intended purpose, according to the Sempra spokesperson. The LNG facility operators immediately pointed to the court "demonstrating the legality of the plant operations."

"The company has demonstrated its ability to be a contributing member of the community within the scope of its normal business operations, and has provided all information necessary to clarify the legality of the facility," the Sempra spokesperson said. She noted that it also confirmed the safety and sustainability of Sempra's LNG operations, along with its "positive impact" on the regional economy in North Baja.

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