Exclusive: Mexico Prepares Environmental Framework for Future Fracking

In an interview with Bloomberg Línea, the director of the country’s environmental regulatory agency ASEA spoke about the possibility of fracking starting during the next federal administration

A gas processing plant at the Perdiz separation facility for the onshore Ixachi field (Photo: Pemex).
January 03, 2023 | 10:45 AM

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Mexico City — Mexico’s Safety, Energy and Environment Agency (ASEA) is preparing a rule for state-owned oil company Pemex and private companies to employ hydraulic fracturing or fracking for oil and gas extraction, if the country’s next president, who will take office in December 2024, endorses its use during the next six-year term.

In an exclusive interview with Bloomberg Línea, ASEA director general Ángel Carrizales López said the regulation will focus on the use of water during the extractive process. “We are working on a regulation that guarantees reuse water and we are doing it with the National Water Commission (Conagua),” he said.

The chemical engineer and former employee of state-owned oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex said that less than 1% of the chemicals used in fracking contain toxic elements, and therefore do not really impact the communities, but that “a lot of water” is used.

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He added that the regulatory framework, which does not yet have a date for its presentation, aims to ensure that the water injected in an onshore reservoir is reused, and that large quantities of the resource are not compromised.

Carrizales López considers that fracking “is demonized”, but also said that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has listened to the demands of communities in the country and that is why he has opposed the use of fracking until now, despite the fact that Mexico is a net importer of natural gas, mostly for electricity generation.

According to data from the National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH), 53% of prospective oil and gas resources in Mexico are resources that require fracking for their extraction.

AMLO and fracking

Although López Obrador’s energy policy is aimed at self-sufficiency, the president has listed a series of 100 commitments of his government and which included the rejection of fracking, during his investiture speech on December 1, 2018.

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“We will not use methods of extraction of raw materials that affect nature and deplete water sources, such as fracking,” he said.

In July 2019, the president said his rejection of fracking lies in the lack of water in areas of the country with onshore oil potential, even though he estimates a possible economic growth of 6% annually if oil rounds and mining concessions were reactivated.

Mexico had already used fracking. Pemex reported in a transparency request that during 2019 it drilled and fracked three wells in unconventional reservoirs Pankiwi-1Exp, Kaneni-1Exp, Maxochitl-1Exp in the states of Puebla and Veracruz, according to the non-governmental anti-fracking organization Alianza Mexicana Contra el Fracking.

And the CNH has reported that Mexico produces around 190,000 barrels per day with fracking.

When asked if the regulation would allow the use of potable water for fracking, Carrizales said that ASEA can guarantee, “in a figurative sense”, that fracking water can be consumed by humans, since the agency will guarantee that this activity is shielded within safety regulations, as well as in the environmental aspect.

Pemex and pollution

When asked about the alleged gas leakage and pollution at the onshore Ixachi and Quesqui fields, as mentioned by the CNH, Carrizales said that issue has to do with controlled flaring.

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“It is something natural, it is something that we engineers know about perfectly well,” he said.

Regarding methane emissions, which are responsible for trapping heat in the atmosphere up to 25 times more than carbon dioxide, and which have been detected by scientists from the Polytechnic University of Valencia with data from the European Space Agency at Pemex’s most important oil asset, Ku-Maloob, Zaap, in the Gulf of Mexico, the executive said that there have been compliance failures on the part of Pemex.

“I worked in Pemex Exploration and Production for a year at the Ku-Maloob-Zaap oilfield, and I know the situation. There have been sanctions, of course, and we are working on that,” he said, without specifying the type of fines and amounts levied against the state oil company.

He added that Pemex has carried out an analysis with an authorized third party, but the resulting document remains confidential and has not yet been submitted to ASEA by the company, although he has had access to the document.

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Carrizales said that, in his opinion, some legislators in Mexico do not like Pemex, a company that he described as “very noble, and which they wanted to destroy,” adding that its management has to be impartial.

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“Just as I receive Pemex, I receive Shell, Chevron, ENI, Jaguar, I work with all of them. We have an industry that is happy with ASEA,” he said.

ASEA’s main function is to guarantee that the activities of the hydrocarbons sector are developed within a criteria of environmental protection, social welfare and economic development.