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NEWS & POLITICS - Mexico violence costs $350K daily in natgas losses

Threats and violence by drug gangs are preventing some government oil workers from reaching installations in northern Mexico and costing state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos about $350,000 every day in lost production, a company official said Thursday.

The official said Pemex has shut down the equivalent of about 100 million cubic feet of natural gas production per day. He talked to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, because company rules do not allow him to be quoted by name.

That amounts to about $10.5 million per month, or about 2.3 percent of Mexico's $450 million per month average in monthly natural gas revenues.

The lost production is centered in the Burgos gas field near the east Texas border in an area where drug gangs have threatened and kidnapped Pemex workers at some the company's installations.

The official said that earlier in the year, when the security problems were most acute, gas production was down twice as much - about 200 million cubic feet per day.

The problem came to a head in May, when five workers at a gas compression plant were abducted by armed men. The father of one of the victims has said the workers were warned to stay away, and the kidnapped men have not been heard from since.

The kidnappers are believed to belong to either the Gulf or Zetas drug cartels, which are waging a bloody turf war in northern Tamaulipas state, chasing many inhabitants from their homes. It's not clear which gang nabbed the workers.

However, army troops are now helping Pemex provide increased security.

"This has allowed us to start partially recovering the production we had stopped for this reason," Pemex exploration and production division chief Carlos Morales told local media.

Dozens of families have fled the drug violence in one Tamaulipas town, Ciudad Mier, and taken refuge at a Lion's Club in the nearby city of Miguel Aleman.

Gunmen have killed so many police and local officials in some areas bordering Texas that few are willing to take the posts anymore, leading a number of women to occupy roles traditionally dominated by men. In two northern hamlets, Villa Luz and El Vergel, women were elected as community security leaders this week after men declined to run out of fear.

Both towns are near the southern edge of Ciudad Juarez, where drug violence has claimed over 4,000 lives in the last two years, giving the city one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Olga Herrera Castillo, the new head of security for Villa Luz, said Wednesday that "sometimes I am afraid, but people encourage me and I lose my fear."

Her job will largely consist of filing reports after crimes occur, because Samalayuca has only 2,500 inhabitants, one patrol vehicle and a handful of police officers - none of them permanently assigned to the hamlet.

Last month, 20-year-old Marisol Valles Garcia was sworn in as police chief of Praxedis G. Guerrero, east of Ciudad Juarez, despite not having finished her criminology degree.


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