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The Dos Bocas Refinery, a project following in the footsteps of ancient Olmec tradition

Published 5.10.2023

The region where the Olmecs once built their first ceremonial temples in America is today home to the most emblematic construction work of the last 40 years in Mexico.


Few people know that the refinery popularly known as Dos Bocas, because of its location in the state of Tabasco, actually bears the name of “Olmeca.” According to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the name of the new plant being built for the state energy company Pemex was so named as a “tribute to their ancestral culture”. But, who were the Olmecs? 

Since construction began on this mega project, the work to build Dos Bocas Refinery has been a challenging endeavor. The project is transforming life in the municipality of Paraíso, Tabasco, which is where the ancient people of the Olmecs lived between the years 1,200 BCE and 400 BCE. They were “the mother culture” of Mesoamerica, one of history’s great civilizations, on a par with Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece, which spawned today’s nations.

The Olmecs were the first Americans to construct buildings and monuments, illustrating the sophistication of this civilization, whose main ceremonial centers are La Venta in the state of Tabasco, and San Lorenzo and Tres Zapotes, in Veracruz. 

One of the hallmarks of the Olmec culture are monumental heads sculpted from basalt rocks, weighing anything between 6 and 40 tons. So far, 17 of these sculptures have been found buried under traditional Olmec ceremonial centers, each adorned with a unique headdress, which indicates that they may represent the illustrious patriarchs of ruling families.

To create these sculptures and build their temples, the Olmecs sourced basalt rock from the mountain of Santa Martha in the Los Tuxtlas area, south of Veracruz. Transporting this material is considered to be a remarkable endeavor, as at that time there were no pack animals on the American continent; such a task would have required the will and effort of hundreds of men, as well as a high level of coordination to make this possible.

Following the example of the Olmecs, who were excellent builders, Techint Engineering & Construction has spared no effort in its work to construct much of the new refinery, relying on the expertise of an international group of Argentine, Mexican and Indian engineers, and importing materials and equipment from Argentina, Germany, Belgium, Brazil, China, Korea and the United States.

A land with energy potential

The Olmec ceremonial temples were usually built deep in the heart of dense tropical rainforests, where the land was prone to flooding, rich in fertile soil and oil. Nature’s bounty was thus employed by this culture to craft many ornamental objects as well as fashioning glue to seal water aqueducts, and working with basalt as a construction material, used to tile the ceilings, walls and floors of their temples.

The region is rich in hydrocarbons, one of the reasons why the Government of Mexico decided to build the Olmeca Refinery in the oil port of Dos Bocas, municipality of Paraíso, Tabasco, as part of its strategy to increase oil and gas production in the country. The main aim is to reducing its reliance on energy imports, currently 77% of the total of the country’s needs, and thus guarantee national energy sovereignty.

Techint E&C is a major player in this great work, the most important project carried out in Mexico over the last four decades, as it is building five industrial plants: the Cogeneration Plant, the Water Pretreatment Plant, the Sour Water Stripper, the Amine Regeneration Unit and the Effluent Treatment Unit. The project has created over 9,000 direct jobs, 60% of them filled by local people. 

Just as the architectural style of the Olmec pyramids and ceremonial temples set a precedent and inspired other cultures down the centuries, the construction of the Dos Bocas Refinery is not only a key contribution to the country's energy sovereignty, but will also be a textbook reference for future engineering and construction projects in Mexico.   




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