Puma Energy’s $500 million commitment with Puerto Rico
As Puma Energy Caribe celebrates its second anniversary in Puerto Rico this month, the company is moving swiftly to consolidate its presence on the island.
In an exclusive interview, General Manager Víctor Domínguez reveals the company's plans and commitment with the island's economy, after acquiring the assets of the former Caribbean Petroleum Corp. (Capeco) in 2011.
"Including the acquisition of the Capeco assets, the Bayamón terminal, the rebranding of the former Gulf and Texaco service stations, and bringing these to regulatory compliance, Puma's investment in Puerto Rico should total $500 million by the end of 2014," Domínguez told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. "That's the level of investment and commitment of Puma in Puerto Rico."
Of that total, between $14 million and $18 million has gone to the rebranding and retrofitting of the former 100 Gulf and 200 Texaco gas stations under the Puma brand. Some 80 to 90 Texaco stations remain to be rebranded as Puma stations, for a total of 320 Puma gas stations on the island by next year.
Once the rebranding of all the stations is completed, Puma will enjoy a market share of about 33% on the island, from the approximately 1,200 gas stations currently operating in Puerto Rico.
Another $80 million will be invested to bring these Puma stations to regulatory & environmental compliance with local and federal authorities. In fact, Puma is the only gasoline chain with remote underground monitoring devices installed in all its gas stations, Domínguez said.
REGIONAL OFFICE IN BAYAMÓN
In addition, the company—a subsidiary of Dutch multinational firm Trafigura Beever BV—has decided to establish its Caribbean regional office in Puerto Rico, at Puma's Bayamón facilities.
To that end, Puma is investing in a new $14 million office building to house its four main business operations in Puerto Rico—bulk distribution of gasoline, diesel, lubricants and propane gas.
"We have decided to locate our regional office in Puerto Rico, and that was decided over other options and countries. We understand Puerto Rico gives us the position we want, in terms of growth and geographical location, as well as investment environment," Domínguez added. "Puma believes very strongly in using Puerto Rico for its development in the Caribbean region."
The local top Puma executive indicated the new building's blueprints and permits are in an advanced stage, and groundbreaking is slated for this summer. In addition, the company is restoring and rehabilitating the former Capeco fuel storage depot in Bayamón that was destroyed in a massive explosion in 2009.
THE MMT DILEMMA
Although the company has been in full compliance with the regulatory agencies with regard to the use of the methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl (MMT) additive in the gasoline it sells on the island, Puma has decided to stop using MMT altogether by the end of this month.
An anonymous letter sent to the media last month hinted at Puma's use of MMT, an additive that the letter alleged was harmful to humans as well as to vehicles' operations.
"Manganese is an additive that has been widely used and tested for years to increase the octane rating in gasoline. It has been used since the 1950s and is the only manganese-based gasoline additive approved by the Environmental Protection Agency when used at established levels," Domínguez said. "The allegations by this anonymous person had no other intention than to hurt consumer confidence, particularly with our product."
A report by a local television station, where a toxicologist stated that manganese is a natural organic material found in fruits, soil and even in paints and cosmetics, the issue that it is harmful to humans is a nonissue, he said.
While the allegations were based on technical issues—claiming the MMT additive could harm engines—no evidence was presented in that regard, Domínguez said. In fact, he said, manganese-based octane boosters are readily available on store shelves and used indiscriminately by consumers, but that wasn't part of the discussion.
"We gave the space for the concerned agencies to intervene, and in this case, it was the Department of Consumer Affairs (DACO by its Spanish acronym) that conducted tests on our gasoline, and the test showed ours was well below the maximum level of MMT allowed by the EPA," the local Puma official said. "We serve gasoline to more than 100,000 vehicles each day, and so far, we don't have a single claim that the manganese content in our gasoline causes harm to vehicles."
In Domínguez's view, the position of DACO Secretary Nery Adames Soto, which he categorized as very responsible, has been that all gasoline products approved to be sold in Puerto Rico are safe to be used in all types of vehicles.
"Therefore, no automaker can invalidate a vehicle's warranty for using gasoline that's certified to be sold and used on the island," Domínguez said.