In Photos: A Massive Oil Spill Is Threatening Mexico’s Third Largest City’s Water Supply

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All Photos | Hector Guerrero

For Mexico’s state oil giant, the expansion of organized crime into fuel theft is a growing menace. Now, a bungled attempt to illegally tap an oil pipeline has threatened an environmental disaster in the northern state of Nuevo Leon, after an estimated 4,000 barrels of crude oil poured into the San Juan River.

The alleged failed theft on August 16 caused an oil spill of up to 15 thousands tons, according to the national oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex). The slick has already advanced five miles, authorities say — and it is feared that rain forecast for the coming days and weeks will spread the contamination further.

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The influx of rainwater could send the pollution downstream towards El Cuchillo dam, which provides drinking water to Mexico’s third most populated city, Monterrey.

The city’s primary water supply, El Cuchillo — which also used for crop irrigation — is just 30 miles away from the contaminated site.

It is estimated that the oil has already spread five miles from the site of the spill.

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Local authorities say the first to be affected will be the roughly 4,000 inhabitants who live in the area surrounding the pipeline, a rural region where cattle raising and agriculture are the primary means of sustenance.

Experts have yet to assess the damage to the local environment. The area is one of high natural biodiversity, teeming with plant and wildlife.

During the fall, the regional dams become estuaries for migratory birds, several species of ducks, cranes, and herons, as well as endangered species like the black bear and American puma.

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In a press release published on Wednesday, Pemex said that more than 500 people were working in the area to contain the damage, claiming that since the spill was discovered, 90 percent of the oil had been retrieved.

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