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Mexico's strategy to fight fuel theft is refocusing efforts on demand rather than supply, according to state oil firm Pemex's CEO.
"We always focused on preventing theft, which implied vigilance, drones, and all kinds of apparatus; now the new element [of the fight] is to inhibit demand, and to get to where the fuel goes," José Antonio González Anaya (pictured) was quoted as saying by state news agency Notimex.
The CEO said stolen fuel is not sold on the streets in small quantities but to gas stations and large companies, hence the need to target the buyers.
While acknowledging that fuel theft l is increasing, González Anaya said the quantity stolen in each incident of clandestine siphoning of pipelines, or 'milking' as it is called in Mexico, is smaller, as the reaction time to detect and shut down leakages has improved.
"We have improved our reaction time, and if we think that Pemex has 40,000km of pipelines, when there is a leakage it takes time to get there and sometimes the people in the community don't let us through," he said, according to the report that cited an interview on the Despierta program. "We're working on improving our management of volume, when it leaves the well, reaches the refinery, the terminal or the gas station."
The chief executive also acknowledged that some Pemex employees could be involved in fuel theft, but denied the company itself or its trade union are involved.
Siphoning incidents are reported almost weekly, often causing spillages or fires, most recently on May 15 when an attempted theft ignited a pipeline in Guanajuato state.
In one of the most violent incidents, 11 people died earlier this month during a shootout between soldiers and alleged thieves siphoning a pipeline in Puebla state.
Pemex has increased surveillance of pipelines with drones and aircraft and with the support of the country's police and army, while clients' abnormal consumption is also monitored, the CEO said.
González Anaya said there is no short-term solution, however.
"It's not a question of days or weeks, we are working on a medium-term strategy, of months" to reduce theft, he said.
Mexico's gasoline market is worth 700bn pesos (US$37.5bn), but 20bn pesos are lost due to illegal siphoning, he added.