MEXICO CITY (AP) — Fuel thieves who drill taps into government pipelines almost blew up a key water pumping plant that moves storm and waste water out of the closed Mexico City valley, the army said Thursday.
The pumping plant is on the northern outskirts of the capital. The city has no natural water outlet and relies on such plants to pump rain and drain water up hill and out of the valley to surrounding agricultural areas that use it to water crops.
The plant was forced to close earlier this week when employees smelled gasoline vapors in the water and a key drain pipe. The Mexican army said Thursday the fumes were enough to cause an explosion.
The plant in the suburb of Ecatepec was closed temporarily early in the week, and by Thursday had reopened. Had it occurred during Mexico's rainy season, which starts in June, the results could have been catastrophic; the city has a long history of floods.
The army dug up parts of a gasoline pipeline that runs through the area, and found illegal taps that led to a warehouse and vacant lots with hundreds of large tanks used to siphon off fuel. The thieves had apparently allowed the fuel to soak into the ground and storm drains.
In the process of investigating the leak, the army damaged a drinking water pipe, affecting about water supplies in the area.
Despite declaring victory in the fight against fuel theft from government pipelines in 2019, between Sept. 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020, the army found 3,780 illegal pipeline taps.
According to an official report, in March Mexico continued to lose an average of about 4,000 barrels of gasoline and diesel every day to fuel theft.
It was not the first time fuel theft caused disastrous consequences.
On Jan. 18, 2019, and explosion at an illegally tapped pipeline further north of Mexico City killed at least 134 people. The explosion occurred in the town of Tlahuelilpan as residents collected gasoline leaking from the illegal tap.