Mexican oil and gas pipelines hit again by explosions

MALTRATA, Mexico Mon Sep 10, 2007 1:09pm EDT

MALTRATA, Mexico (Reuters) - Six explosions caused by sabotage hit pipelines in Mexico on Monday, disrupting oil and natural gas supplies and forcing thousands from their homes, following similar attacks in July by leftist rebels.

Flames shot up 30 feet and black smoke billowed from one explosion at the Balastrera gas pipeline near the town of Maltrata in Veracruz state, as firefighters struggled to control the blaze there.

Mexico's state-owned energy monopoly Pemex said there were no injuries from the six blasts, most of which were in Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico.

Some pipelines were hit in several places. It was not immediately clear if bombs had been used.

State civil protection authorities said 15,000 people had been evacuated from neighboring villages and towns.

In July, the Popular Revolutionary Army, a leftist guerrilla group known by its Spanish initials EPR, staged four bomb attacks on Pemex pipelines carrying natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, crude oil and gasoline.

Since then, Mexico has deployed soldiers and federal police to protect pipelines but President Felipe Calderon has said it is almost impossible to completely secure the vast network.

The worst damage from Monday's blasts was to two 48-inch (122-cm) diameter natural gas pipelines, but one major 30-inch (76-cm) oil pipeline was also hit. Pemex said exports would not be affected.

Pemex, a top supplier of crude to the United States but a net importer of natural gas and gasoline, said businesses in Veracruz and neighboring states would suffer losses of natural gas supplies.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said any loss of crude supplies to United States would be minor, as oil from the area is delivered by ship.

"Any impact on the U.S. would be relatively small," EIA analyst Matt Cline said.

Veracruz state Gov. Fidel Herrera said police had chased a black pick-up truck believed to be connected to the attacks along remote highland roads.

"They are still looking for this vehicle, which is the only evidence we have that could be connected to the event," Herrera told Mexican radio.

(Additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel, Cyntia Barrera and Tom Doggett)