Mexican senator files criminal complaint against energy minister, Pemex CEO over methane leak

FILE PHOTO: Satellite image of the Zaap-C offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico

By Stefanie Eschenbacher

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A Mexican senator filed on Wednesday a criminal complaint against the country's energy minister and the chief executive of Pemex for allegedly not reporting a methane leak at one of the state oil company's offshore platforms, according to the document seen by Reuters.

Opposition Senator Xochitl Galvez, who sits on committees for the environment and energy, filed the complaint to the attorney general's office against Energy Minister Rocio Nahle, Pemex CEO Octavio Romero and Angel Carrizales, who heads environmental regulator ASEA.

Reuters sought comment from Nahle, Romero and Carrizales through the press teams at the energy ministry, Pemex and the regulator. Reuters also contacted Nahle, Romero and Carrizales via email and Twitter without response.

Galvez's action comes after Reuters received documents through a freedom of information request that showed that ASEA said it had no records of Pemex reporting the December incident.

The methane leak at the Zaap-C platform, which first appeared on Dec. 8, was uncovered by researchers led by Itziar Irakulis Loitxate from the Polytechnic University of Valencia.

Their research, published in June by the European Space Agency, said Pemex released about 40,000 tons of methane - a potent greenhouse gas - over 17 days in December.

Pemex is obliged to report such incidents under Mexican law, nine experts told Reuters. The news agency could not independently establish if Pemex informed the authorities.

Pemex did not respond to requests for comment on the regulator's disclosures or the criminal complaint.

The criminal complaint filed by Galvez on Wednesday is the third complaint the senator has submitted in recent weeks after Reuters reports on Pemex methane leaks. Earlier complaints were made to an environmental regulator and a government watchdog.

The experts, all current or former officials from regulators or the energy ministry, told Reuters that if Pemex is found to have knowingly not reported and repaired a methane leak it could face a fine and individuals found responsible for wrongdoing could go to prison.

Pemex could also be stripped of the right to operate the Ku-Maloob-Zaap cluster of oil fields, they said.

(Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Stephen Eisenhammer and Marguerita Choy)