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Mexico's Pemex struggles to boost oil refining in Aug as fuel imports rise

(Reuters) - Crude oil processing at Mexico's six local refineries rose slightly in August, data from state-owned oil company Pemex showed, but the facilities are operating at barely half their capacity, forcing the country to import large volumes of fuel.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has pushed hard to refine more motor fuels at home, arguing Mexico must wean itself from foreign supplies, but the latest data underscores the difficulty of reaching the nationalist leader's goal before his term ends next year.

Crude processing at Pemex's domestic refineries rose by 0.11% in August from the previous month to reach nearly 797,000 barrels per day (bpd), the data released on Wednesday showed, but refining levels remained stuck below last year's 816,000 bpd.

Lopez Obrador has vowed to grow crude processing to between 1.0 million bpd and 1.2 million bpd.

Meanwhile, Pemex produced only 242,000 bpd of gasoline in August, down 9% from July and the lowest level of monthly output this year. Diesel production in August reached around 152,000 bpd, also down from the previous month.

The eighth month of the year showed a much bigger swing in fuel imports, the data showed.

Gasoline imports rose 17% to reach more than 407,000 bpd, while diesel imports were up by the same percentage to total nearly 175,000 bpd.

Pemex did not offer an explanation for its fuel production levels in August, but in the past it has blamed the previous administration for what it has called insufficient maintenance at the aging facilities.

Lopez Obrador is also betting on significant new streams of fuel output from what will be Pemex's seventh, and largest, refinery once in comes online.

Energy Minister Rocio Nahle this month said the Olmeca refinery located off of Mexico's Gulf coast will overcome past delays and be fully online later this year with a processing capacity of 340,000 bp

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