(Argus, 10.Dec.2020) — PdV has restarted a crude distillation unit at its 190,000 b/d Puerto La Cruz refinery for the first time since 2017, but as with the Venezuelan state-owned company’s other refinery repair efforts, expanding and sustaining operations remains a challenge.
Atmospheric distillation unit 1 (DA-1) restarted gradually over the past week, with some help from Chinese and Iranian technicians, multiple PdV officials told Argus. The unit is currently in recirculation mode with a load of 50,000 b/d of 30°API Mesa crude.
Under optimum conditions, DA-1 would be the first step in the process of producing naphtha, jet fuel, diesel, LPG and other products.
Managers at the site are hoping to resume gasoline production by February 2021, potentially easing what has become a chronic deficit across Venezuela.
PdV expects to restart a second atmospheric distillation unit (DA-3) designed to process light grades Anaco Wax and Santa Barbara within a month at most.
DA-3 produces light and heavy distillates and residual fuel oil. During first quarter 2021, PdV expects to restart a 35,000 b/d naphtha reformer, a 15,000 b/d fluid catalytic cracker, a 5,000 b/d alkylation unit and a hydrotreater that would enable the resumption of gasoline production, the managers said.
PdV also repaired and partially restarted a desalter — designated as DA-2 — to strip salt from 16°API Merey blend which has been stored for months at the refinery and nearby Jose complex because of an export backlog that the oil ministry blames on US sanctions.
The desalter is preparing the Merey for shipment to Asia as the resumption of direct liftings by China last month has helped to drain inventories.
Oil union officials at the refinery contend that PdV has cut safety corners in the restart, citing a failure to address extensive corrosion, charges the managers deny.
Back in 2012, PdV contracted China’s Wison Engineering and South Korea’s Hyundai to upgrade the Puerto La Cruz refinery to enable the plant to process heavier crude and to expand storage capacity. PdV effectively ran out of money, and US financial sanctions imposed in 2017 pulled the plug on the project altogether.
Start and stop
PdV has a nominal 1.3mn b/d of refining capacity in Venezuela, but little of that is operating. At the 305,000 b/d Cardon refinery, PdV is currently producing about 50,000 b/d of gasoline from its 86,000 b/d FCC and 54,000 b/d naphtha reformer, according to internal PdV reports seen by Argus.
A PdV manager at Cardon says it will be “difficult” to raise gasoline volumes without more distillation and VGO capacity, but since the last week of November repair crews have managed to restart a second atmospheric distillation unit (CD-2) which alongside CD-1 is processing a combined 95,000 b/d of medium grades.
Cardon repair crews also have restarted two VGO units that currently are processing a combined 57,000 b/d. A hydrodesulfurization unit is processing another 28,000 b/d, according to the reports.
Water services to the nearby 635,000 b/d Amuay refinery were finally restored at the end of last week but only a single atmospheric distillation unit (CD-1) is processing about 50,000 b/d, following a recent explosion.
PdV’s 140,000 b/d El Palito refinery partially restarted atmospheric distillation and catalytic cracking again last week but a senior oil union official anticipates more breakdowns because of “very deteriorated conditions”.