22 | AGO | 2019
Dos Bocas oil refinery: devastated mangrove and wildlife at risk
President López Obrador was vowed to build the oil refinery in 3 years – Photo: File Photo/EL UNIVERSAL

Dos Bocas oil refinery: devastated mangrove and wildlife at risk

14/05/2019
15:27
Mexico City
Roger Vela y Cuauhtémoc Contreras
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According to experts, the area is often flooded and could turn into a swamp, as well as being an environmental preservation zone

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It's noon in the Gulf of Mexico. The temperature reaches over 30° C. There is a sign that reads “Let's protect wildlife” on top of a dirt trail, accompanied by a drawing of a deer, a turtle, and a crocodile, the endemic species of the area.

Nevertheless, a few meters ahead, a scene contradicts the sign: several trucks are full of dozens of palm trees and bushes that have been cut recently. The noise generated by the engines interrupts the silence in the location and the singing of the birds. The khaki color of the arid soil has replaced the green rain forest. Also, a large part of it is flooded. It is difficult to imagine that until recently, this was a mangrove forest.

This is the beginning of the construction of the new PEMEX oil-refinery last December, one of the priority infrastructure projects for the current administration, which was allocated USD $8,000 million in order to reduce fuel imports and create jobs but the Dos Bocas project has one problem: the land floods. Since October, the water bodies started to cover more and more space in the recently deforested area. In February the flooding decreased but it increased once more in March.

EL UNIVERSAL was able to confirm this using for different satellite platforms: Planet, a private service that operates Earth Observation Satellites; Glovis, from the U.S. Geological Service; Sentinel 2, from the European Space Agency, and Google Earth, a platform that uses images from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among other organizations.

Everything started on July 27, 2018, when then President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that the refinery he promised to build during his electoral campaign would be built in Dos Bocas, in the Paraíso municipality. Six weeks later, the works began. In 24 days, between September 8 and October 1, around 230 hectares of mangrove forest, rain forest, and crops disappeared; this area is equivalent to the size of Mexico's City's main square, Zócalo, multiplied 40 times.

On March 18, during an event to celebrate the 81st anniversary of the Oil Expropriation, Rocío Nahle, the Energy Minister, explained that the refinery will have an extension of 566 hectares and will process 340,000 barrels per day, a number that was corrected this week. It will also generate 23,000 direct jobs and 100,000 indirect jobs. Nahle also announced that companies Bechtel-Techint, Worley Parsons-Jacobs, Technip, and KBR had been invited to participate in the tender for the construction of the refinery.

On December 9, López Obrador was present at the location for a ceremony to place the first stone of the construction but he was forced to do it at a nearby land plot. The event couldn't be carried out in the area where the mangrove forest had been located because it was flooded. This is shown by the satellite images from that date and the ones from the following weeks.
 

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Rains didn't case the unexpected floods

In 2011, an environmental impact assessment was issued for the expansion of the Dos Bocas terminal. It stated that the deforested area was not exploitable because there were flooded areas, which were classified as an environmental preservation zone.

“The mangrove forest works as a natural sea water filter. When removed, not only will that land flood, it is quite possible that nearby areas such as Puerto Ceiba and the Lázaro Cárdenas neighborhood will flood. The zone is going to turn into a huge swamp,” said Fernando Álvarez Noguera, an expert from the UNAM's Biology Institute and the co-author of the book title Biodiversity in the state of Tabasco.

When the tide rises, he explains, the water will enter without a brake and the areas that used to collect fresh water are going to go through a process of salinization, affecting the vegetation found there. “The mangrove forests also work as a natural barrier against hurricanes, they have great strategic importance for the life in the coast, that is why they are protected,” he emphasized.

Also, Álvarez Noguera explains that the gasses emitted by the refinery could affect the quality of air in a significant manner and affect the health of the inhabitants, besides contributing to climate change. The Mecoacán lagoon could be polluted and endanger the oyster production because there is no plan to manage the wastes.

But the problems are also legal. In November 2018, the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA) filed a lawsuit before the Security, Energy, and Environment Agency (ASEA), the federal body in charge of supervising industrial security and environmental protection in the oil industry, because the deforestation “was carried out without an authorization for the Change of Forest Land Use, nor with the authorization in regards to environmental impact, which are essential for a construction of this type.”

Despite Nahle and Adán Augusto López, governor of Tabasco, claiming the construction had environmental impact studies, the CEMDA proved that it didn't have said studies and wasn't authorized through a transparency mechanism to obtain official documents from the Energy and Environment and Natural Resources ministries.

On December 21, 2018, ASEA ordered the firm Sistemas Empresariales del Golfo, the company in charge of the works, to stop all the activity. Nevertheless, EL UNIVERSAL visited the area in late December and confirmed that the deforestation of the land continued. Then, on January 24, 2018, ASEA fined the company for MXN $13,900,000 for the deforestation of the area and imposed “the obligation to establish a reforestation program in 82.2 hectares.”

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Endangered species and biodiversity

Gustavo Alanís Ortega, the director of CEMDA, emphasized that they presented documents from the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity, where it is stated that a mangrove forest was located in the area. “In Mexico, mangrove forests are protected by the norms NOM-022-SEMARNAT-2003, NOM 059 SEMARNAT-2010, and other international treaties because there is an endangered ecosystem,” he explained.

Since the project has no environmental impact studies, it is difficult to say which animal species inhabited the deforested areas but during a visit, it was possible to find a small lagoon overflew by snake kites, an endangered species. Other species including iguanas, toads, coatis, opossums, crabs, and jaguarundis, as confirmed by Marcelo Aranda, a wildlife expert and author of a Handbook for the tracking of wild mammals in Mexico.

A 2018 report from the Mexican Oil Institute (IMP) details from the seven areas identified as potential locations for a new oil refinery, Paraíso represented a risk in regards to soil, environment, and society.

“It was the one that presented more risk related to the installation of a new refinery, therefore it is not recommended, since, in regards to environment, social, and infrastructure matters, it was found that it had the highest number of limitations, compared to the rest of the sites studied.”

Also, the document explains that the site if facing issued related to the type of ecosystems that exist in the region, which are inhabited by a large number of protected and endangered species.

Officials from PEMEX and the Energy Ministry couldn't be reached for comment.

 

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