(Recasts with sourcing from resignation letter)
MEXICO CITY, Feb 26 (Reuters) - A commissioner at Mexico’s independent oil regulator will step down only halfway through his term for “personal reasons,” the commissioner said in a resignation letter that was seen by Reuters on Tuesday, a move that could give President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador more sway over the agency’s decisions.
Commissioner Gaspar Franco, who sits on the seven-member governing body of the National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH), will step down effective Feb. 28, according to his resignation letter, which was sent to the Senate’s president and dated Monday. The end date is three years ahead of when Franco’s six-year term was scheduled to end in 2022.
The CNH did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Franco’s departure will give Lopez Obrador a third commissioner to replace on the regulator’s board, which approves and supervises exploration and production plans submitted by national oil company Pemex as well as private and foreign firms that have won contracts at auctions since 2015.
CNH commissioners are nominated by the president and must be approved by the Senate. They serve staggered terms that overlap presidential terms, a design meant to insulate the regulator from political pressures.
The leftist Lopez Obrador, a fierce critic of Mexico’s energy reform that ushered in the auctions, has already ordered a suspension of future CNH-run auctions as well as tenders to pick joint venture partners for Pemex.
Lopez Obrador favors a state-centric energy model, and has promised to revive Pemex, whose crude production has declined steadily over the past 14 years.
In November, CNH President Juan Carlos Zepeda said he was leaving early, prompting concern that Lopez Obrador could seek to undermine the regulator’s independence. Later that same month, Commissioner Hector Acosta said he would step down to take a state government position.
Lopez Obrador has yet to formally send the Senate, which his party MORENA controls, names of nominees to be considered. (Reporting by Adriana Barrera in Mexico City Editing by Matthew Lewis and Leslie Adler)