Venezuelan Oil Operations Halted, Blackout Persists

(Argus, 10.Mar.2019) — Venezuela’s main oil export terminal and heavy crude processing complex in Jose are shut down as a historic blackout persists across much of the country today.

Crude exports were already backed up because of US oil sanctions before the record power outage darkened nearly all of Venezuela on 7 March. Around 14mn bl of crude are backed up in tankers anchored offshore.

Three heavy crude upgraders and a blending operation that national oil company PdV operates with foreign minority partners, as well as petrochemical plants run by Pequiven in Jose, are suspended, PdV officials tell Argus.

The halted upgraders are PetroPiar with Chevron, PetroMonagas with Russia´s Rosneft and PetroCedeño with Total and Equinor. The three plants have nameplate synthetic crude production capacity of around 450,000 b/d.

Also affected is the 160,000 b/d blending facility Sinovensa that PdV runs with China´s CNPC.

Other oil and gas operations are suspended as a precaution.

PdV has been working since yesterday to restore the Barbacoa-Jose power transmission line that services the strategic industrial complex in Anzoátegui state, but multiple tests failed yesterday. The company is testing the line again today after cleaning the Jose substation.

The blackout originated in the 10GW Guri hydroelectric complex and a 765kW transmission line that supplies central Venezuela. Thermoelectric plants that would have compensated for Guri´s breakdown are mostly out of service for lack of investment and maintenance.

Electricity service is returning in some parts of Caracas and other areas of the country today, but many Venezuelans have been without power and associated water supply for more than 70 hours. Looting and intimidation by paramilitary gangs were reported overnight. Among the areas that have power is the neighborhood around the 190,000 b/d Puerto La Cruz refinery.

Venezuela’s main airport in Maiquetía is mostly shut down.

Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro and senior government officials have said the blackout was caused by a cyberattack perpetrated by the US. Critics say such an attack is impossible.

Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader that most Western countries recognize as interim president, called the blackout a long-foreseen “catastrophe” that will require international help to address problems across generation plants, transmission lines and substations after years of corruption.

Speaking across a halting internet signal from outside the National Assembly that he presides over, Guaidó said lawmakers will meet in an emergency session tomorrow to declare a “state of national alarm” and blamed Maduro for the crisis. “We need to address this catastrophe immediately,” he said, urging Venezuelans to sustain anti-government protests.

“You have every right to be very angry, but now is the time to take action,” he told supporters. “We all know who is responsible and we need to find solutions. We need to take action together in the street.”

Some of Guaidó´s supporters are urging him to invoke Article 187 of Venezuela´s 1999 constitution that allows the assembly to authorize military intervention from abroad. Yesterday Guaidó said the opposition should be prepared to invoke Article 187 “when the time comes.”

The US and allies in Latin America have pledged to support a political transition but rule out armed intervention.

Guaidó said 17 people have died as a result of the blackout, including 15 patients in a hospital in Maturin in eastern Venezuela. Julio Castro, a physician accompanying Guaidó today, said many others are at risk, including newborns, diabetics and dialysis patients.

The lack of water is also raising alarm bells over the further spread of diseases such as malaria and dengue.


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