MEXICO CITY - Authorities discovered a tunnel Tuesday beneath an industrial building in Mexico City that fuel thieves dug to tap gasoline and diesel pipelines.
Mexico discovers thousands of such taps each year, but seldom are they found connected to tunnels or located in such heavily populated areas.
The tunnel was several yards long and deep, and had timber framing to prevent collapse. The tunnel accessed four pipelines that carried fuel to a nearby tank farm. All had illegal taps drilled into them, with hoses that led out to a large parking area.
Such large-scale tapping operations presumably fill whole tanker trucks or industrial vehicles. The state-owned oil company, Pemex, has found some gas being sold through licensed stations had apparently been stolen.
Such illegal taps frequently leak and catch fire, as one did Jan. 18 in Hidalgo state, north of Mexico City. That fire occurred as residents were gathering spilled fuel. The death toll in that fire now stands at 119; 60 percent of the injured have died.
At total of 30 people remain hospitalized, with 10 still in very critical condition.
Adding to the woes at Pemex, the Fitch ratings agency lowered the company's credit rating one step to "AA," with a negative outlook. The downgrade was attributed to negative cash flow and the fact that its heavy debt load makes the company essentially insolvent, though government-backed.