Fire at Mexico Pemex gas facility kills 26

REYNOSA, Mexico Tue Sep 18, 2012 7:26pm EDT

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REYNOSA, Mexico (Reuters) - At least 26 people were killed when a gas facility of state oil monopoly Pemex burst into flames in northern Mexico on Tuesday, disrupting gas supplies in the area.

Pemex said in a statement that 26 workers had been killed at the gas compression station near the city of Reynosa, a key entry point for natural gas to Mexico from the United States.

Of the dead, four were Pemex staff, and 22 were contract workers, the company said.

The blaze was one of the worst accidents Pemex has suffered in the last few years.

A number of people were also injured, according to local media, though Pemex has not said how many. Emergency services at the scene said at least 10 people had been injured.

As a safety measure, Pemex shut pipeline valves, which might strain supplies if the closure is prolonged.

Pemex said that by early on Tuesday afternoon it had extinguished the fire, which began with an explosion at the facility, according to local reports.

The company has not said what caused the blaze.

Television pictures showed fires raging at the plant earlier on Tuesday as ambulances rushed to the scene.

Pemex said the blaze had caused damage to the measuring equipment, a pipeline and several control valves at the plant, which belongs to its exploration and production arm, PEP.

The incident follows two other fires at Pemex facilities in the state of Tamaulipas in the past few weeks.

The facility sends gas imports from the United States as well as domestic gas production from Mexico's Burgos fields to the industrial city of Monterrey.

Houston-based oil analyst George Baker said that a temporary shutdown of the Reynosa facility was unlikely to have a big impact on U.S. natural gas exports to Mexico due to extensive storage capacity on the U.S. side of the border.

David Shields, an independent Mexico City-based oil analyst, said supply to Mexico's domestic market is also unlikely to be significantly affected by a temporary closure.

"If Monterrey can be supplied from one pipeline, it can be supplied from another," said Shields.

Earlier this month, four Pemex workers were injured after a fire broke out at the Madero refinery in Tamaulipas. Another blaze at the same refinery occurred on August 13.

A number of blazes at Pemex facilities have been caused by illegal tapping of pipelines, which have been preyed upon by criminal gangs. Tamaulipas, which borders the United States, has been ravaged by drug gangs in recent years.

In 1984, hundreds of people died and many more were burned after a series of explosions at a Pemex liquid petroleum gas facility in San Juanico, on the edge of Mexico City.

(Reporting by Adriana Barrera, David Alire Garcia and Lizbeth Diaz; editing by Dave Graham, Bob Burgdorfer, Carol Bishopric, Gary Hill)

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