Pemex raises questions on future of new Tula refinery

By David Alire Garcia

MEXICO CITY, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Mexican state oil monopoly Pemex said on Friday it is studying "the nature and timing" of its new Tula refinery following repeated delays and speculation that the project could be suspended pending the government's planned energy reform.

Planned for more than $10 billion, the Tula Bicentenario refinery would be Mexico's first such project since the late 1970s and has been the subject of controversy since Pemex omitted it from its five-year business plan last month.

Pemex has denied reports in Mexican media this month that said the project had been canceled.

Pemex chief executive Emilio Lozoya is likely to face questions on Tula's future when he takes part in public hearings in the lower house of Congress next week.

Earlier this week, the lower house said in a statement announcing the hearings that "cancellation of the Tula refinery" is among the possible items on the agenda for Lozoya.

In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Pemex said it is weighing its options on Tula.

"As of the date of this report, we are in the process of evaluating the nature and timing of this project," Pemex said.

President Enrique Pena Nieto hopes to push a major energy bill through Congress before the end of the year which the government hopes will spur billions of dollars in new investment across the industry, including in refining.

Gasoline imports have jumped in recent years as the country's six refineries have failed to keep pace with rising demand, despite Mexico's status as a major crude producer.

Announced with great fanfare in 2008, company officials have time and again denied the refinery in central Hidalgo state has been shelved, a position reiterated by Pemex refining unit chief Miguel Tame on Thursday.

Tame added that he expects basic engineering and other site preparations to be completed by December.

So far only a wall enclosing the perimeter of the project has been completed at the site 51 miles (82 km) north of Mexico City. Pemex had planned to finish the project by 2017, but officials have said that target is unlikely to be met.

The new refinery would be adjacent to the existing Miguel Hidalgo refinery, Mexico's second largest with a crude oil processing capacity of 315,000 barrels per day.