Mexico’s President Signs Energy Overhaul Into Law

Wall Street Journal

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Mexico’s President Signs Energy Overhaul Into Law

Legislation Ends Monopoly of State-Owned Petróleos Mexicanos

By

JUAN MONTES
Dec. 20, 2013 3:06 p.m. ET
MEXICO CITY—Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed into law Friday a bill that ends the monopoly of state-owned Petróleos Mexicanos in oil and gas, opening new horizons for private-sector investment in the world’s ninth-largest oil producer.

The energy bill, Mr. Peña Nieto’s wager to lift stagnant oil production and unleash economic growth, was passed by lawmakers in just 10 days. Congress gave final approval on Thursday of last week after two days of debates, and a required majority of state legislatures, 26 of the country’s 31, approved the constitutional amendment by this week.

“This year, we Mexicans have decided to overcome myths and taboos in order to take a large stride toward the future,” Mr. Peña Nieto said in a speech at the National Palace.

Mr. Peña Nieto became the first president in more than 50 years to propose and pass in Congress changes to the constitution on the subject of oil. The last one was Adolfo López Mateos in 1960, and that was to reinforce a state monopoly set up in 1938 when former President Lázaro Cárdenas expropriated the oil industry and turned oil into a nationalist symbol of Mexican sovereignty.

Under the changes, Mexico’s oil market will go from being run by a single player, state-firm Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, to a competitive one in which private oil and gas firms will be allowed to explore for and produce hydrocarbons. Pemex will continue to be state-owned, with preferential rights to bid for oil blocks.

The process of implementing the law kicks off immediately. Pemex has three months to choose which of its existing exploration and production areas it wants to retain for itself and demonstrate that it has the capacity to exploit them. The Energy Ministry will have up to six months to approve Pemex’s choice.

The Energy Ministry will then launch the first bidding rounds for new areas of exploration for oil and gas, mainly in deep water and shale gas, which could happen in the last quarter of next year or in 2015.

The government will be able to become a partner with private firms in these new areas through different types of contracts, including licenses and deals to share the oil production. Pemex also will be able to award the new contracts, which go beyond the restrictive service contracts that the state firm always has used to farm out exploration and production work. Private firms will also be allowed to own and operate oil refineries.

The energy overhaul also liberalizes the generation, distribution and sale of electricity, opening up the state-owned utility CFE to direct competition.

The bill amends three key articles of the Mexican constitution—25, 27 and 28—which form the legal core of the country’s nationalistic oil laws. Constitutional changes are accompanied by several temporary dispositions detailing points that secondary legislation must contain. Congress has until the end of April pass the legislation.

Write to Juan Montes at juan.montes@wsj.com

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