As Felipe Calderón, the Mexican president, prepares to leave power this weekend, he dropped off yet another house-warming gift to his successor, Enrique Peña Nieto.

While Peña Nieto was packing his suitcase for a visit to Barack Obama in Washington, Calderón on Sunday announced a third major Mexican oil find in as many months, and the third of such importance in a decade, according to the view of many of those in the business.

Since it peaked at 3.4m barrels a day in 2004, Mexican oil production – like the old Buddy Holly song – slipped and slid during a six-year stretch before reaching a much lower plateau of just over 2.5m barrels a day.

The decline has been a problem for the government, which depends on oil for a third of its income.

So the two recent big major finds in deep water near the maritime border with the United States generated a sense of relief. But also one of pride – many analysts had assumed that Mexico’s state oil monopoly, Pemex, would be unable to face the technical challenges that have already been met by US and other companies elsewhere in the Gulf.

But the deepwater discoveries will require about five years of studies and infrastructure before the first barrels crude will be produced, Pemex chiefs say. By that time, Peña Nieto will be in the twilight of his six-year presidency.

So Calderón’s announcement on Sunday of an onshore discovery in the southern state of Tabasco is particularly hot. Without the need for offshore infrastructure and in an area of a long-established tradition of producing crude, the new well, known as Navegante, should be producing in a relative trice.

Navegante marks an onshore field that could have reserves of as much as half a billion barrels of oil and its equivalent in natural gas, Calderón said.

While Peña Nieto is sure to be encouraged by the three discoveries – all of which produce light and so relatively valuable crude – he aims to achieve much more by opening the oil monopoly to private investment.

How exactly he aims to achieve that is not yet clear, though all is expected to be revealed shortly. Very shortly, perhaps.

Related reading:
Pemex/Petrobras: a tale of two state oil companies, beyondbrics
Pemex oil find: it’s the good stuff, beyondbrics
Mexico: don’t expect reform “big bang”, beyondbrics

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