One at Papan, a yellow flame on a tall, skinny tower, was visible about 10 kilometers away. Two other sources at the Papan plant, which is connected to Perdiz, said both facilities are operating well below planned capacity, flaring most of the gas instead of processing it.
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to the press.
Five locals who live and work nearby said the fireplaces were burning almost constantly. Burning not only emits harmful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, it wastes a valuable resource that could help reduce costly imports from the United States.
The CEO of Pemex, Octavio Romero shared a video message on November 18 promising that the company would begin processing 300 million cubic feet of gas per day in Ixachi, instead of flaring it..
Video shared on Twitter showed Romero and other executives from Pemex and the contractor Nuvoil, which is developing the Papan plant, standing in helmets at the facility and explaining how they would stop the burning by January 15. Nuvoil did not respond to a request for comment.
López Obrador has staked much of his legacy on revitalizing Pemex. Although his production is about half that of 20 years ago, he remains the largest contributor to the state coffers in a country where millions live in poverty.
In 2018, the president celebrated Ixachi as the biggest energy find in decades. But Pemex has repeatedly missed gas production targets, blaming it on a lack of infrastructure.
In November, two company sources told Reuters that the company preferred to pay fines than sacrifice production.
The three regulator sources, all familiar with the Ixachi-classified development plans, said the infrastructure to capture, process and transport or store the gas should have been ready by 2020, according to the plans. But instead, the company prioritized the production of condensate, similar to very light crude, buried in the veins of the rocks along with the gas.
Pemex counts condensate toward its production goal of 2 million barrels per day, unlike gas. This resulted in excessive flaring of gas, which rises to the surface at the same time as the condensate, because the adjacent plants lack the necessary infrastructure and there is no possibility to store the gas in its raw form.
Completing the infrastructure would have meant temporarily halting condensate production and that would have pushed Pemex further away from the president’s production goal, according to sources at Pemex, Sener and the regulator.