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State-owned Mexican oil company defends response to pipeline leak as death toll rises

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An official with the state-owned oil company that operates the pipeline that exploded last week in central Mexico, killing at least 89 people, is defending its response to the leak.

A Pemex engineer told a news conference on Monday that at first the leak was just a “small puddle” but later grew into a “fountain.” Within 20 minutes of that assessment, the engineer said, the company was able to “take actions.”

It was not clear if those actions included shutting off the flow of fuel in the pipeline.

Pemex chief executive Octavio Romero said his team had followed protocol, though he would not confirm or deny if there was negligence or corruption related to the delay in closing the pipeline.

“Everything will be looked at,” he said.

A woman places a list with names of people injured during the explosion in the Tlahuelilpan. (Henry Romero/Reuters)

The number of people who died from a gasoline pipeline explosion in central Mexico rose to 89 Monday, according to Mexico’s health minister.

The number of injured has been revised down to 51 from 58. 

Fuel thieves punctured the Tula-Tuxpan pipeline a few kilometres from one of Mexico’s main refineries on Friday.

Up to 800 people flocked to fill plastic containers from the seven-metre gasoline geyser that ensued, officials say.

A couple of hours later, it exploded.

Tanker trucks stand at the exit of a Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, fuel depot and distribution centre in the port city of Veracruz, Mexico. (Felix Marquez/Associated Press)

Over the weekend, a series of possible missteps by the current government became clear, from the delay in shutting off the pipeline, to relatives saying fuel shortages caused by the government’s anti-theft policy attracted people to the leak.

Mexican Attorney General Alejandro Gertz said that any negligence by authorities is being investigated and that officials involved would be called in to answer questions this week.

“It’s a fundamental issue: the chronology of the events must become absolutely clear.”

Late last month, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador launched a program to shut down an illegal fuel distribution network that siphons off about $4 billion Cdn worth of fuel annually from state oil firm Pemex.

The plan, which involves shutting off pipelines compromised by gangs who fit valves to drain fuel, led to widespread gasoline shortages in central Mexico in January, including in Hidalgo, to the north of Mexico City.

‘A lot of of innocent people came here’

Half a dozen people interviewed by Reuters on Saturday said their relatives went to the leaking duct in Tlahuelilpan district in Hidalgo state because they struggled to find fuel elsewhere and were desperate to fill up cars to get to work or run their farms.

“A lot of innocent people came here, perhaps their car didn’t have enough gasoline for tomorrow, and they said I’m just going to go for a few litres,” said farmer Isidoro Velasco, 51, who was waiting for news of his nephew Mario Hidalgo, who he believed likely dead. 

Mexican soldiers stand guard Saturday at the site of a massive blaze triggered by a leaky pipeline in Tlahuelilpan, Hidalgo state, Mexico. (Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images)

Polls show the measures have until now enjoyed fairly broad public support, despite the difficulties and long lines at gas stations.

The disaster in Tlahuelilpan, however, has brought renewed scrutiny of the strategy. Lopez Obrador has faced repeated questions about the disaster, demanding he explain why soldiers deployed to guard the duct did not chase people away from the leak and how quickly supplies to the duct were cut after Pemex detected the leak.

‘The bigger blame lies with authorities’

Romero said about 10,000 barrels of high octane gasoline were in the section of the pipeline between the Tula refinery and the village when it blew up on Friday.

The defence ministry and Lopez Obrador said there were only 25 soldiers present and the army did not want to hold back the crowd. Critics say authorities should have been firmer in controlling the crowd and sealing the area, and should have called for reinforcements.

A man waits for the DNA test of a relative in Mixquiahuala following the explosion. (Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images)

“Part of the blame goes to the people [at the ruptured pipeline] but the bigger blame lies with authorities who let them go there knowing it was dangerous,” said Velasco, the farmer.

The Tula-Tuxpan pipeline delivers fuel to other central states, raising the possibility that its closure for repairs after the explosion could worsen fuel supply problems, including in car hub Guanajuato.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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