Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) has launched an investigation following an explosion at a natural gas compression facility in the northern Mexico border town of Reynosa, near McAllen, TX, where at least 29 people were killed and as many as 50 more were injured. Seven people reportedly were missing.

Initial reports from Pemex had indicated that 10 people were killed (see Daily GPI, Sept. 19).

The Reynosa gas distribution station receives natural gas and condensates from Mexico’s Burgos Basin production complex. The station stores gas and also serves as an entry point for U.S. gas imports. Gas is distributed from the Reynosa station to regional customers and piped to the industrial city of Monterrey, Mexico. Pemex said on its Twitter account that U.S. gas imports into Mexico were not impacted.

The blaze at the Reynosa station damaged the measuring equipment, a pipeline and several control valves at the plant, which belongs to Pemex Exploration and Production. Initial reports by Pemex indicate the fire apparently was caused by an accidental leak. A “large flame” apparently was sparked during maintenance work at a part of the facility that wasn’t in operation.

Units of California’s Sempra Energy and Pemex jointly own two assets adjacent to the area where the explosion occurred, a Sempra spokesperson told NGI.

The partners’ 70-mile, 36-inch diameter San Fernando natural gas pipeline was unaffected by the incident and had resumed operations. The jointly owned TDP propane pipeline, a 12-inch diameter pipeline, runs 114 miles and receives liquefied petroleum gas from the Burgos Basin for delivery near Monterrey.

“A detailed evaluation of the damages will be assessed once we have access to the site,” the Sempra spokesperson said.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon credited a quick reaction by regional emergency workers to preventing “a real catastrophe” by controlling the fire before it reached massive tanks of a neighboring gas processing plant. Calderon promised a thorough investigation and said federal prosecutors would be scrutinizing the accident.

The industrial accident at the facility is one of the worst to hit Pemex in several years and is the third accident since mid August, officials said. Earlier this month, four Pemex employees were injured in a fire in Tamaulipas at the Madero oil refinery. Another fire at the refinery occurred in mid August.

The latest fire started about 10:45 a.m. CDT Tuesday and was brought under control within a few hours, according to Pemex.

Pemex said four people killed were staff members and at least 25 people who are known to have died were contract workers. At least 46 other people were injured; seven remained in the hospital on Wednesday. The search continued for seven other people who were reportedly missing.

Tamaulipas is considered a dangerous place for Mexicans and Americans alike because of an ongoing war among drug cartels that want to control smuggling routes into the United States. According to officials, gangs in the past have sought to siphon fuel from pipelines, which has caused fires and injuries.

U.S. firefighters from McAllen, as well nearby towns that included Pharr and Mission, TX, were asked to respond to the emergency, but ultimately no U.S. crews responded because of the ongoing drug cartel violence, Texas officials said.

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