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Mexico's national refining system SNR is stuck in the past and its modernization is essential for national energy security, Francisco Barnés de Castro, commissioner from energy watchdog CRE, said at the BNamericas Mexico Energy Summit.
"[Investment in refining] has fallen behind year after year, decade after decade, and we now have a phenomenal accumulated gap in investment."
Of Pemex's 311bn-peso (US$23.9bn) budget in 2012, only 28.9bn pesos (9.28%) went to subsidiary Pemex Refinación, leaving the facilities with outdated technology.
Only two of the country's six refineries can properly process heavy and ultra-heavy crude and some of the refineries do not even meet Mexico's NOM-086 standard for sulfur levels in gasoline and diesel.
The aging refineries have forced Pemex to import more gasoline and diesel each year. In 2012, Pemex imported 49.2% of national gasoline demand and 33.2% of diesel compared to 41.6% and 13.3% respectively in 2009.
Mexico must take immediate steps to improve refining for the sake of its energy sovereignty, the commissioner said.
First, a heavy crude optimization plant must be built at the Dos Bocas receiving terminal to handle the ultra-heavy output from Mexico's largest basin, Ku-Maloob-Zaap.
In general, the SNR needs more investment. Barnés estimates the system will require US$50bn over the next six years for new facilities, renovations, and additional infrastructure. Last year, the system received approximately US$2.22bn.
The ideal solution, he said, is a reform that allows Pemex to partner with the world's leading refiners.
Pemex Refinación is making headway on its latest refining addition, said Leonardo Cornejo Serrano, manager of the subsidiary's capacity expansion projects division, in a presentation at the Mexico Energy Summit.
The new US$11.6bn Tula Bicentenario refinery is currently undergoing site preparation and has received all the necessary environmental and building permits.
The refinery will have a throughput capacity of 250,000b/d of heavy Maya crude plus 76,000b/d of residuals from the adjacent Miguel Hidalgo refinery.
It will produce 165,000b/d of gasoline and 116,000b/d of diesel, as well as various derivative products. Once in operation, it will decrease gasoline imports by 45%, Cornejo said.
Cornejo said the next tender for the project will take place in April for earthwork and site conditioning. The tender processes for EPC contracts at the processing plants will begin by year's end.
The plant's in-service date has been bumped from 2016 to late 2017, Cornejo added.