Tabasco's 'Petroleros:' Mexico's Pernicious Oil Industry

Collection with 15 media items created by jforde89

Mexico 12 Dec 2014 00:00

Oil is everywhere, our way of life depends on that non-renewable resource in a level we could have never imagined. But the "bags of sun" as Carl Sagan called the oil fields are not omnipresent in our world as oil byproducts are. Those zillions of decomposed corpses from millions of years ago only appear at selected spots in the surface of our planet. Sometimes they are found offshore or in deserted areas where no one lives. Other times they appear in densely populated areas, where it's extraction deeply disturbs people's way of life. This is one of those areas. The place where everything started. The water-land where the olmecs, the mother culture of mesoamerica, were already using crude oil for many purposes 3500 years ago.

The economic history of the state of Tabasco, located in southern Mexico, can be resumed in one word: Extraction. One million hectares of lush rainforest were turned into pastures during the logwood and mahogany booms from the 17th century. Cattle were introduced into the cleared areas to make sure the natural ecosystem will not regenerate, and feed the meat markets of Mexico City. In the 70's the prime natural resource of our time made it's grand appearance and the oil boom started.

On average almost 500,000 barrels of high quality oil are extracted each day in Tabasco along with almost 1.5 millions of cubic feet of natural gas, that means 1 barrel for every four inhabitants of the region a day. The Tabasco Shore produces another 300,000 barrels a day. Foreign oil companies have been working in Tabasco for many years. The recent oil reform promoted by president Peña Nieto supposedly will end PEMEX control over Mexico's oil and will turn foreign companies from contractors to shareholders.

The oil region of Tabasco is a densely populated swampy area of around 10,000 square kilometers, known as "La Chontalpa" the land of the Maya-Chontal people. This region was the cradle of civilisation in Mexico and is one of the most diverse regions in the world, culturally and biologically. Most of it's inhabitants remain impoverished and few opportunities are present for young men. Today the local youth dream of becoming a "petrolero" for a chance to earn decent wages, despite the low chances they have of landing a job involving more than cleaning.

Pedro, 17, gets basic cleaning jobs at Poza 123 (Pool 123), if he is lucky donning the signature orange jumpsuit once a month. Julio De La Cruz, a teacher at a primary school in Tapotzingo says that, "None of the people from the surrounding areas have been allowed to enter work on the oil fields other than cleaning, and not one peso has been given back to the communities."

Despite syndicates organized by local leaders to negotiate for a share of the work, most of the labour force contracted by the oil industry is not local. Eliazar Benitez, 65, is originally from Aguascalientes in the centre of Mexico but moved to this area 40 years ago. He has worked with many different companies but all within the oil industry.  

"There are some  120+ oil rigs that sit off the gulf coast with an average of 200-300 people working on each and the workers are mainly foreigners:  Europeans, Japanese, Chinese, Americans and Venezuelans." he said. "They keep the majority of foreign workers off land as not to upset the locals, but you can easily see them when they finish their 28 days on and are flown to land via helicopter. A large percentage end up in local brothels, and it is not unusual to see prostitutes waiting for the workers when they come to land."

The ecological damage caused by oil extraction here has been critical and has generated protests among the rural population since the beggining of the boom. Fish, the natural main source of protein of the region where 40% of the fresh water in Mexico, is now poisoned with heavy metals like mercury, nickel and lead. Patches of oil are omnipresent in the lowlands of the region. 

The Santo Tomas environmental organisation has put in place an oil watch programme they to monitor oil spills on land. However, Hugo Ireta Guzmán, who works with the organization, says that the pollution at sea still poses problems to the local economy. 

"There have been many problems with the local camarones (shrimp)," he said. "Many people used to rely on this as a main source of protein, but now the region imports a lot from other parts of Mexico because of contamination in the sea."

 

Oil Exctraction Drilling Gas Mexico Tabasco Latin America Export Economics Economy Fossil Fuels Natural Reso... Non Renewable Energy Petrolero

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Oil in Tabasco 01
Nacajuca
By jforde89
14 Dec 2014

The economic history of the state of Tabasco, located in southern Mexico, can be resumed in one word: Extraction. One million hectares of lush rainforest were turned into pastures during the logwood and mahogany booms from the 17th century. Cattle were introduced into the cleared areas to make sure the natural ecosystem will not regenerate, and feed the meat markets of Mexico City. In the 70's the prime natural resource of our time made it's grand appearance and the oil boom started.

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Oil in Tabasco 02
Nacajuca
By jforde89
13 Dec 2014

Pemex is a state company created in 1938 after the nationalisation of the oil industry. It is the biggest company in the nation and the worlds second largest not publicly listed company (after Cargill). It provides a third of all Mexican government tax revenues collected and employs more than 150,000 people. Despite these facts it has been advertised by the media as a burden for Mexico for almost twenty years.

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Oil in Tabasco 03
Nacajuca
By jforde89
14 Dec 2014

The oil region of Tabasco is a densely populated swampy area of around 10,000 square kilometers, known as "La Chontalpa" the land of the Maya-Chontal people. This region was the cradle of civilisation in Mexico and is one of the most diverse regions in the world, culturally and biologically. Most of it's inhabitants remain impoverished and few opportunities are present for young men.

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Oil in Tabasco 04
Nacajuca
By jforde89
13 Dec 2014

Foreign oil companies have been working in Tabasco for many years. The recent oil reform promoted by president Peña Nieto supposedly will end PEMEX control over Mexico's oil and will turn foreign companies from contractors to shareholders. In the picture we see two Schlumberger employees taking a rest.

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Oil in Tabasco 05
Nacajuca
By jforde89
13 Dec 2014

The ecological damage has been critical in some points and has generated protests among the rural population since the beggining of the boom. One of the first protest initiatives was the "Pacto Ribereño" (a pact among the riverside communities) created to defend the countryside in 1975.

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Oil in Tabasco 06
Nacajuca
By jforde89
13 Dec 2014

The swamps are exceeded on their filtering services, and patches of oil are omnipresent in the lowlands of the region.

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Oil in Tabasco 07
Nacajuca
By jforde89
13 Dec 2014

Fish, the natural main source of protein of the region where 40% of the fresh water in Mexico Discharges, is now poisoned with heavy metals like mercury, nickel and lead.

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Oil in Tabasco 08
Nacajuca
By jforde89
13 Dec 2014

Fish, the natural main source of protein of the region where 40% of the fresh water in Mexico Discharges, is now poisoned with heavy metals like mercury, nickel and lead. The Santo Tomas environmental organisation has put in place an oil watch programme they to monitor oil spills on land. However, Hugo Ireta Guzmán, who works with the organization, says that the pollution at sea still poses problems to the local economy.

"There have been many problems with the local camarones (shrimp)," he said. "Many people used to rely on this as a main source of protein, but now the region imports a lot from other parts of Mexico because of contamination in the sea."

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Oil in Tabasco 10
Nacajuca
By jforde89
13 Dec 2014

The area intricate system of rivers once were the avenues for the Maya-Chontal indigenous communities. They were used to take out their cacao to the shores and control the sea trade all the way from Veracruz to the Coast of Honduras before the spanish conquest of Mesoamerica.

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Oil in Tabasco 09
Nacajuca
By jforde89
14 Dec 2014

Most of the labour force contracted by the oil industry is not local. The local population have created a myriad of syndicates as a negotiating entity to get "a share of the cake".

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Oil in Tabasco 11
Nacajuca
By jforde89
14 Dec 2014

The Maya-Chontal Villages went from naturally being flooded 3 months a year to 9 months of flooding every year due to some water diverts made to protect the capital city and oil business center Villahermosa.

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Oil in Tabasco 12
Nacajuca
By jforde89
14 Dec 2014

The local youth dream of becoming a "petrolero", but chances that they will get a spot in the industry that involves more than cleaning are low.

Pedro, 17, gets basic cleaning jobs at Poza 123 (Pool 123), if he is lucky donning the signature orange jumpsuit once a month. Julio De La Cruz, a teacher at a primary school in Tapotzingo says that, "None of the people from the surrounding areas have been allowed to enter work on the oil fields other than cleaning, and not one peso has been given back to the communities."

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Title photo for the collection
Oil in Tabasco 13
Nacajuca
By jforde89
13 Dec 2014

Halliburton's labourers take a lunch break in front of a perforation tower. This company has brought a high number of Venezuelan citizens to work in Tabasco.

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Oil in Tabasco 14
Nacajuca
By jforde89
15 Dec 2014

A retired "Petrolero" fishes as a marine perforation facility which was being repaired departs from the port of Dos Bocas. Chances are the foreign companies get their promised oil share offshore, since social conditions will probably make it too "rough" inland.

Eliazar Benitez, 65, is originally from Aguascalientes in the centre of Mexico but moved to this area 40 years ago. He has worked with many different companies but all within the oil industry.

"There are some 120+ oil rigs that sit off the gulf coast with an average of 200-300 people working on each and the workers are mainly foreigners: Europeans, Japanese, Chinese, Americans and Venezuelans.," he said. "They keep the majority of foreign workers off land as not to upset the locals, but you can easily see them when they finish their 28 days on and are flown to land via helicopter. A large percentage end up in local brothels, and it is not unusual to see prostitutes waiting for the workers when they come to land."

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Oil in Tabasco 15
Nacajuca
By jforde89
13 Dec 2014

The perforating tower comes once a good amount of oil is detected in the underground. On average almost 500,000 barrels of high quality oil are extracted each day in Tabasco along with almost 1.5 millions of cubic feet of natural gas, that means 1 barrel for every four inhabitants of the region a day. The Tabasco Shore produces another 300,000 barrels a day. That makes around 30% of the oil produced in Mexico, the rest comes from the shores of the state of Campeche.