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Solution to Yucatan’s natural gas shortage remains unclear

Geography, stalled infrastructure projects and oil rig accidents work against the region

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A deadly 2015 fire at an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico in being linked to present-day shortages on the Yucatan Peninsula. Photo: Associated Press

Authorities this week are seeking to quell concerns of impending blackouts in Yucatan because of fuel scarcity. But the timeline for resolving an acute shortage of natural gas on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula remained unclear Wednesday.

In a directive issued on Monday to power sector participants, independent power grid operators at the National Energy Control Center (Cenace) declared a state of operative emergency throughout the Peninsula because of a shortage of gas to power the area’s combined-cycle gas turbines.

Of the 2,120 megawatts of dispatchable generation capacity on the Peninsula, at least 985 megawatts must be available to ensure the supply of electricity, Cenace said. As of Monday, only 732 megawatts of capacity was guaranteed to be available.

As long as the Peninsula remained below 985 megawatts, a state of emergency would be in effect, said Cenace.

Then, on Tuesday, Cenace downplayed the threat of power outages. Officials stated that there was “sufficient electric supply for the maximum energy demand expected this summer” on the peninsula. Two prolonged blackouts have already occurred in the region this year.

Cenace said it “notified in a preventive manner all the members of the electric industry of the operational conditions expected for the Yucatan Peninsula during the summer of the present year, due to the limitations that have been registered in the supply of natural gas in the region.”

Cenace also said that the CFE is increasing the supply of diesel fuel to the Merida III combined-cycle plant, which can run on either natural gas or diesel.

CFE has attributed the gas shortage to deadly fires on the Abkatun Alfa marine platform off Campeche in 2015 and 2016.

The Peninsula depends entirely on gas produced by Pemex in southeastern Mexico. The gas flows from Pemex gas processing centers to the Peninsula’s power plants via the 485-mile Energía Mayakan pipeline, majority-owned by French multinational Engie.

Dry gas production from the Pemex gas processing facilities in April fell 9.1 percent with wellhead gas production dropping 3.6 percent.

Since Mayakan is not yet connected to the Sistrangas national pipeline grid, and since the government canceled a tender to install a floating storage and regasification in Veracruz, the peninsula is unable to receive imported gas.

Projects that allow pipeline imports from the United States to reach the Peninsula still have unknown completion dates.

One short-term option to partially alleviate the Yucatan gas shortage would be through swaps between Pemex and CFE, according to Talanza Energy Consulting’s David Rosales.

Once commercial gas begins flowing on the marine pipeline, Pemex could purchase a percentage of the pipeline’s gas volumes from CFE, Rosales told NGI. Pemex would most likely receive the gas at Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, which was the proposed site of the canceled floating plant. Pemex could, in theory, use this gas to meet demand from its petrochemical and industrial clients, or for pneumatic pumping in its oilfields.

“Pemex then, and only then, could send a bit less of its production from the south to Coatzacoalcos and send more gas to the Peninsula,” Rosales said.

Source: Natural Gas Intelligence

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