Photo: Ensenado plant LNG Energia Costa Azul/ Sempra LNS
Friday, a Baja California natural gas plant was nearly forcibly shut down by the town’s mayor before federal officials intervened.
In Ensenada, the 3rd largest city in Baja California, Mexico, was the site of a showdown between local and federal law enforcement.
Ensenada Mayor Enrique Pelayo Torres ordered that a natural gas import terminal, Sempra LNG or LNG Energia Costa Azul, be shut down due to “irregularities and flagrant violations of the law.” Upon his orders, over 50 municipal police, dressed in SWAT-like uniforms, forced their way through the plant’s gates at around 4 p.m. on Friday, but did not move into the facility any further due to a “hardened steel turnstyle.” They did however, put seals on the plant’s gates.
Sempra LNG’s CEO Darcel Hulse said that had the officers gone any further into the plant, and demanded operations be halted and/or operators removed, ”it would have been a real dangerous safety risk.” Hulse stated that the plant has all the proper permits to operate, and that if Pelayo had questions about it, he needed only ask for a tour. “There was absolutely no understanding and a callous disregard for the safety of our operation.”
Pelayo claims that a former mayor, and political rival, improperly approved land-use permits to the U.S. owned company. He added that local police were lacking details about how the plant was built and how it runs, and said this information would be necessary in the even of an emergency.
After a letter from the president of the Mexican Energy Regulatory Commission Javier Salazar Diez de Sollano, was sent to Pelayo stating that the plant was operating within the law, police left the facility. The MERC letter also clarified that it is the responsibility of federal officials to determine whether the plant stays open, not local law enforcement.
“The activity of natural gas storage is the exclusive federal jurisdiction. Consequently, only the federal government can issue and implement the technical (rules) and regulations governing such activity.”
Hulse said the mayors attempt to shut down the plant was only a political ploy to draw attention, as the presidential elections are next year, and made even more suspicious by the fact that reporters showed up right behind the local police.
“This was well-planned, well thought out. It was a show of force and a media ploy.”
Sempre LNS is owned by Sempra Energy, and has remained controversial for a number of years, as lawsuits in both Mexico and the U.S. are filled with accusations of corruption, taking land illegally, and firing “whistleblowers,” though Hulse denies the allegations and claims that those behind them are only looking to extort the company.