(OilPrice.com, Haley Zaremba, 17.Jul.2018) – In the past, oil has accounted for 96 percent of Venezuela’s exports and over 40 percent of government revenues. Now, as the nation’s economy continues to crumble amid sanctions, political strife, and low oil prices, the Venezuela’s all-important oil production is plummeting. In fact, last month’s production was the lowest in 30 years at 1.5 million barrels a day. In desperation, the struggling administration has even begun to shut down production proactively as their terminal storage meets maximum capacity and the government faces major bottlenecks at storage facilities and ports.
As oil production and exports drop, the Venezuelan government has even less money to buy essentials like food, medicines, and other basic goods–a well-established crisis growing worse all the time. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said that the brutal economic crisis underway in Venezuela is one of the worst in modern history. The nation’s once powerful economy has plummeted 45 percent in the last five years, and the IMF projects that it will shrink 15 percent in 2018 alone. Out-of-control inflation rates will reach 13,800 percent.
However, in the middle of the chaos — a collapsing regime, widespread hunger, medical shortages — there is one holdover from the socialist platform that autocratic President Nicolas Maduro has refused to lapse on. Despite the crisis on his own soil, Maduro continues to grant generous oil subsidies to Cuba.
The small island nation, not without its own economic issues, has been dependent on cheap Venezuelan oil since the 1990s. After the fall of the Soviet Union, comrade Cuba was in economic shambles. It was at this point that they turned to Venezuela reduced-rate crude oil, in exchange for sending skilled laborers across the Caribbean.
Now, as Venezuela sinks deeper and deeper into an extreme economic depression, few could have predicted that they would still be making good on that decade-old agreement with Cuba–even the Cubans themselves have been scrambling for new sources of cheap crude. Last year Venezuela even cut off exports to Cuba for eight months, but then once again began sending shipments of light oil to Cuba and Curacao in March 2017 at a great cost to their own refineries, which are running at just a small fraction of their capacity thanks to lack of maintenance and drained funds.
Despite all this, amazingly, there was a reported shipment of 500,000 barrels of Venezuelan crude shipped to northwestern Cuba last week, sparking an uproar back at home. Venezuela continues to supply Cuba with around 55,00 barrels of oil per day, costing the nation around $1.2 billion per year, an unthinkable generosity when 9 million Venezuelans are reporting that they can only afford to eat once a day. This money could be channeled into turning around Venezuela’s own crisis, to curb inflation and import desperately needed medicines that can no longer be found on empty Venezuelan shelves.
There is a new, albeit small, ray of hope, however, for Venezuela’s ailing economy. On July 1st Mexico overwhelmingly elected a leftist president for the first time in decades. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known locally as AMLO, pledged on the campaign trail to bring Mexico’s foreign policy back to a standard of non-intervention. This would mean walking back current neoliberal Mexican President Enrique Peña-Nieto’s efforts to build a regional alliance against Maduro and put pressure on him to ease up on his increasingly despotic tendencies.
Despite public outcry against Maduro’s continued financial support of Cuba as his own people without food and desperately needed medicines, the reality is that Cuba is one of Venezuela’s last remaining allies. Even if Mexico is no longer actively working against Maduro’s regime, they won’t be supporting it the way that Cuba has and continues to do. The sad truth is that Maduro has and likely will continue to put politics over people, and cheap oil will continue to flow out of the pockets of Venezuela and into the ports of Havana, which sit ready and waiting.
(Energy Analytics Institute, Ian Silverman, 12.Jul.2018) – Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Latin America and the Caribbean fell for a third straight year in 2017, reported the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean or CEPAL by its Spanish acronym.
(Melbana Energy Limited, 2.Jul.2018) – Melbana Energy Limited announced a potential dual listing on the UK’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM) is being actively considered, as it is clear there is strong UK investor interest in Cuba as an investment destination.
The company is considering any number of corporate business development initiatives, after recent marketing initiatives in the UK.
A General Meeting (GM) will shortly be scheduled to, amongst other things, provide the necessary constititutional changes required to enable an AIM listing should the Melbana Board determine to do so in the future. These proposed changes to the constitution are preparatory only and will provide flexibility but have no effect unless the Board determines to proceed with an AIM listing.
To facilitate our business development activities Melbana has engaged McDaniel & Associate Consultants, an independent expert with substantial Cuban experience, to assess the prospective resources available in Block 9 with their assessment report expected to be available in the third quarter.
(Melbana Energy Limited, 2.Jul.2018) – Australia’s Melbana Energy Limited announced preparatory work is continuing in Cuba in readiness for the planned drilling program in Block 9.
From a permitting perspective, intermediate approvals are continuing to be obtained for both the Alameda and Zapato exploration wells as progress is made towards submissions for the final Approval to Drill permits.
Civil works contract scope definition has progressed and the civil works tender evaluation for the Alameda-1 drilling pad was completed and the preferred contractor identified.
Melbana’s Cuba based team has undertaken a number of site visits and community liaison sessions to support potential civil works. Preferred contractor has been identified and discussions are continuing with the preferred drilling rig provider, which is an established local entity, with a drilling rig being identified and a drilling window nominated as notionally commencing in December 2018. The proposed rig is currently planned to be refurbished and upgraded for maintenance and operational purposes in late 3Q 2018. The final decision on drilling contractor, drilling target and timing will be influenced by a number of factors, including any incoming party into Block 9 and their plans, their preferred drilling targets and confirmation of drilling rig availability.
Block 9 farmout activities are continuing, with multiple interested multinational parties engaged in assessing the prospectivity of the Block.
Work is continuing on the evaluation of the Santa Cruz Incremental Oil Recovery (IOR) opportunity.
(PTI, 23.Jun.2018) – India and Cuba have agreed to enhance cooperation in biotechnology, renewable energy and traditional medicine as President Ram Nath Kovind held wide-ranging talks with his Cuban counterpart Miguel Diaz-Canel to further cement the strong bilateral ties.
Kovind, who arrived here on Thursday on the last leg of his three-nation tour which also took him to Greece and Suriname, commenced his engagements here by paying tributes at the statue of Mahatma Gandhi.
Leter, Kovind met his counterpart Diaz-Canel.
“President Kovind held delegation level talks with President Diaz-Canel of Cuba; both countries agreed to enhance cooperation in biotechnology, renewable energy and traditional medicine,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted.
Cuba also reiterated support for India’s candidature for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.
President also addressed the University of Havana on ‘India and the Global South’.
During his address, Kovind stressed on the need for India and Cuba to work work together to push for greater space for developing countries in global governance structures.
(UPI, Daniel J. Graeber, 12.Jun.2018) — New data taken from an oil reservoir on the northern coast of Cuba confirm the assessment of a highly prospective site, Australia’s Melbana Energy announced.
Melbana, which changed its name from MEO Australia to reflect a Caribbean flair, said a new study of the reserves in the Zapato prospect inside so-called Block 9 confirm its interpretation of a 71 million barrel reservoir.
CEO Robert Zammit said in a statement Tuesday that work so far proves the region has significant potential for commercial developments.
“We are progressing [with]environmental approvals and permitting to allow us to drill Zapato,” he said in a statement. “Several of our potential farm-in partners have expressed strong interest in Zapato and we remain flexible in our forward plans.”
Melbana in April completed a tender for a drilling rig that could be deployed in Cuba later this year. Bids are under review while it looks for outside partners to buy into its Cuban portfolio.
An agreement with Petro Australis Ltd. fell apart last year because of the lack of approval from regulatory authorities, leaving it with a 100 percent stake in Cuban operations and without a partner that would carry 40 percent of the drilling costs.
Its Alameda-1 prospect near the northern coast of Cuba is targeting a reservoir with more than 2.5 billion barrels of oil in place. The company estimates it would cost at least $20 million to drill two wells in Cuba, higher than previous estimates.
The Cuban election committee nominated First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel on April 18 to serve as the next Cuban president, succeeding Raul Castro to become the first person in decades outside the Castro family to lead the island nation.
In a swearing-in ceremony, Díaz-Canel suggested he’d stick close to the Castro legacy with Communist Party ideals. Under the new government, the Cuban Ministry of Science and Technology gave Melbana the environmental license for planned activities at its Alameda-1 exploration well on the north shore of Cuba in April.
(Energy Analytics Institute, Piero Stewart, 7.Jun.2018) – Cuba’s foreign currency will be under pressure this year.
“Difficulties with fuel supply and a drop in exports have continued to put pressure on the availability of foreign currency,” wrote Caribbean Economist Marla Dukharan in a recent Caribbean Economic Report, which is available monthly on her website.
Additionally, Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA reportedly acquired $440 million in foreign crude this year to send to Cuba on favourable credit terms, however, recent U.S. sanctions against Caracas-based PDVSA could impact such deals in the future, she said.
As a result, low growth in Cuba of less than 2% is likely to persist as a result of Venezuela’s crisis and shifts in U.S. policy, while availability of currency will remain a challenge, said Dukharan, also Chief Economist at Barbados-based fintech company, Bitt Inc.
“The transition of power underway [in Cuba] is not expected to drive large sways in policy with the new President Miguel Diez-Canel Bermúdez committing to the same economic model and reforms being implemented by the Castros,” Dukharan concluded.
(Energy Analytics Institute, Ian Silverman, 31.May.2018) – Former Trinidad and Tobago Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine will speak in Port of Spain about the regional deepwater industry in the Southern Caribbean.
An abstract from his technical talk about the regional deepwater industry in the Southern Caribbean, and the case of Guyana, Suriname & Trinidad and Tobago, follows:
“The 2015 discovery by ExxonMobil of oil in Guyana’s Stabroek Block, the discovery of natural gas by BHP Billiton in Trinidad and Tobago’s Block TTDAA 5 in 2017 and ongoing exploration in both countries and in Suriname have set the stage for a major deepwater oil industry in the Southern Caribbean which could potentially extend to Barbados. Such an industry will have a transformative effect on the practice of geoscience and all aspects of petroleum engineering. In addition, deepwater oil and natural gas commercialization require different skills and technologies different to what obtains on the shallow and average depth waters of continental shelf.”
For more details contact The Geological Society of Trinidad & Tobago at email@example.com
(Reuters, Marc Frank, 30.Apr.2018) — French energy firm Total SA and German industrial giant Siemens AG hope to sign a deal soon with Cuba to build a 600 megawatt gas-fired power plant on the island, according to diplomats and businessmen with knowledge of the talks.
The two are leading a consortium that has been in negotiations with Communist-run Cuba since last year when they won a tender for the project, said the sources, who did not identify the other members
“Total, with some international partners, is looking at a LNG power project in Cuba, one of several countries where Total is exploring similar LNG potentials,” the company said in a statement to Reuters.
A Siemens spokesman in Germany was not immediately available for comment.
The sources cautioned that many details of the project were under negotiation and that the combination of U.S. sanctions and Cuban bureaucracy meant there was no guarantee the agreement would be finalized, though they were hopeful.
The potential deal is the latest example of companies from the European Union moving to take advantage of Cuba opening to foreign investment.
“The EU has become Cuba’s first trade partner and was already the first in investment and development cooperation,” the European Union’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini said in January while visiting the country.
Siemens signed a letter of intent with the Cuban power authority in 2016 to help modernize the grid.
“With this important agreement … we will assist and support Cuba on the development of a sustainable and modern electricity system,” Willi Meixner, head of Siemens Power and Gas division, said at the time.
In the Matanzas Bay project, 124 kilometers (77 miles) east of Havana, Total would obtain the liquid gas from abroad, and then store, process and supply it to the plant, which would be built by Siemens, the sources said.
The project would mean less dependence on oil and less pollution, Jorge Pinon, a Cuban energy expert at the University of Texas in Austin, said.
“It could be the best decision that the Cuban government has made toward an energy policy able to react to changes in price, geopolitical events and or supply-demand disruptions,” he said.
Cuba was left in the lurch when its sole oil supplier, the Soviet Union, collapsed in 1991. More recently it has been scrambling to find alternative oil supplies as ally Venezuela’s economy and oil production implode.
Cuba’s total generating capacity is around 6,000 megawatts and demand is increasing due to growing tourism, digitalization and a new private sector.
Around 95 percent of electricity in Cuba is generated by fossil fuels. The government has begun a program to generate 24 percent with renewable sources by 2030.
Total and Siemens have engaged in commerce with the Caribbean island nation for decades.
Total was the first foreign company to drill for oil just off shore in the 1990s after the Soviet Union collapsed. The company failed to find a commercially viable field.
It also has a joint venture with Cuban state oil monopoly Cubapetroleo (CUPET), Elf Gas Cuba, which for 20 years has packed a liquid propane and butane gas mix into cylinders and distributes them for use by households and businesses in eastern Cuba.
The Cuban state power authority, Union Electrica, and CUPET did not respond to a request for comment. (Reporting by Marc Frank Editing by Daniel Flynn and Susan Thomas)
(Energy Analytics Institute, Aaron Simonsky, 24.May.2018) – Energy Analytics Institute, formerly LatinPetroleum Inc., continues to promote its “Energy Education Initiative” in the Americas, also known as “NRG ED.”
NRG ED is structured to work with K-12 schools, community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, workforce training programs, communities and businesses, and aims to promote reduction of non-renewable energy usage in favor of renewable energies. However, the core of the initiative is education, without which the NRG ED initiative would not be.
“At its core the initiative is really focused on education,” said Chad Archey, Editor-in-Chief at Energy Analytics Institute from Atlanta, Georgia.
EAI views basic education as most important in the overall learning process and also promotes educational initiatives and research from grade school to the professional level related to the energy sector. EAI aims to foment constructive dialogue regarding energy usage as well as ways to reduce the carbon footprint left by non-renewable energy resources through the following: 1) educational consultancy, 2) development and distribution of educational and training materials, and 3) promotion of debate and discussion regarding renewable energy alternatives.
Energy Analytics Institute (EAI), formerly LatinPetroleum Inc. (dba LatinPetroleum.com), is a Houston-based independent company focused on producing non-biased news, updates and special reports for investors interested in the Latin America and Caribbean petroleum sectors.
(Energy Analytics Institute, Aaron Simonsky, 1.May.2018) – The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, also known as ECLAC or CEPAL by its Spanish acronym, projects economic activity in troubled Venezuela will contract 8.5% in 2018.
Gross domestic product or (GDP) estimates for other important countries and regions follows:
(PDVSA, 22.Feb.2017) – The vice president of trade and supply of PDVSA Ysmel Serrano, concluded a work trip to Cuba in order to strengthen energy cooperation ties as part of the Cuba-Venezuela Agreement.
Key issues for the development of integration policies with the peoples of the Caribbean were discussed in a meeting with the Minister of Energy and Mines Alfredo López Valdez, and the General Director of state-owned company Unión Cuba-Petróleo (CUPET) Juan Torres.
Serrano said this bilateral agreement, since its inception in 2000, has fulfilled the obligations set forth in the comprehensive energy cooperation accord, “having a positive impact on the economic and social development of both nations.”
Accompanied by Operations Manager and President of PDV Marina Admiral Franklin Montplaisier, he visited the Matanzas Supertanker Base, the main marine terminal for the reception of hydrocarbons and operations logistics system for storage and distribution.
Supply strategies to ensure ongoing and efficient shipment reception operations were discussed. “It was made clear to us the excellent conditions and the high operational level of this base,” said Serrano.
They also held a meeting with Vice President of the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, on refining, production, exploration, commercialization and distribution of hydrocarbons, highlighting the key role of Venezuela in the development of their Economic and Social Plan 2017-2030.
Cabrisas acknowledged efforts made by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to support the recovery of oil prices. He also expressed his solidarity and emphatic support for the Bolivarian Revolution and the Vice President of the Republic Tareck El Aissami, in the midst of the U.S. empire’s vile attack of recent days.
Finally, Serrano ratified the support and commitment of oil industry workers in the construction of a multipolar world where the sovereignty of the peoples is respected, as dreamed by Commander Fidel Castro and our Supreme Commander Hugo Chávez.
(Energy Analytics Institute, Pietro D. Pitts, 14.Sep.2016) – On a brief taxi ride from Punto Fijo’s Josefa Camejo International Airport to the main highway that crosses this city and connects to one of the many refining complex entrances here, a scrawny dog with mange can be seen emerging from an endless pile of discarded trash.
In this small refining town broken beer bottles, dirty diapers, and discarded personal items cling to trees and bushes as far as the eye can see in either direction along the short stretch of highway that separates the two massive refineries here: Amuay and Cardón. The refineries comprise the lion’s share of the processing capacity at PDVSA’s 971,000 barrel-a-day Paraguana Refining Complex, also commonly known as the CRP by its Spanish acronym. The CRP refineries combined with three others spread across this country have produced cumulative financial losses of $53 billion in the last eight years. Definitely not chump change.
Venezuela is home to a wealth of natural resources from gold to iron ore and holds the world’s eighth-largest natural gas reserves and the largest crude oil reserves, according to BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy. Yet, images of the immediate surroundings of the CRP paint a different financial storyboard about the well-being of Venezuela’s all important oil sector – which generates 96 percent of the country’s foreign export earnings.
Despite Venezuela’s claim to fame in terms of the size of its oil reserves, the South American country has been reduced to importing refined products because its refineries can’t meet local demand. The country’s refining sector is in a virtual state of emergency due to low processing rates, numerous unplanned plant stoppages, as well as accidents and injuries that state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. prefers to not report, according to oil union officials here. All summed up, PDVSA’s refining sector – especially within Venezuela – is a financial drain on the company as operating losses continue to mount year after year.
Venezuela – a founding member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries or OPEC — is engulfed in an economic crisis that started way before oil prices began their long downward trend. Political uncertainty, an ongoing threat of asset expropriations as well as currency and price controls have only helped to starve the capital-intense oil sector here of necessary foreign investments. PDVSA, as the Caracas-based company is known, continues to lack the necessary cash to properly revive the country’s oil sector in its majority partnership role, while local Venezuelan oil companies are few and in between and often lack the financial firepower of many of their international peers.
Many Venezuelan-based economists from Datanálisis President Luis Vicente León to Ecoanalitica Director Asdrubal Oliveros blame part of the economic crisis on the failure by former populist Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to divert financial resources to the country’s private sector importers and the all-important upstream, midstream and downstream sectors during his tenure from 1999-2013 amid robust oil prices. In general, PDVSA’s problems mirror Venezuela’s economic crisis. The country’s economy has not fared any better under the presidential tenure of Nicolas Maduro, the man hand-picked by Chávez to succeed him prior to his untimely death in 2013. By most people’s accounts, considering the scarcities here of everything from milk to basic medicines, widespread looting, and runaway crime, things are much worst.
Oil-dependent Venezuela continues to rely heavily on its exploration and production or upstream sector to generate the bulk of its petroleum sector revenues. However, Venezuela’s oil output appears to be on an unstoppable decline, reaching 2,095,000 barrels per day in July of 2016 compared to 2,361,000 barrels per day in 2014, according to Organization of Petroleum Exporting Country’s Monthly Oil Market Report, citing secondary sources. Data from direct communications is just slightly more optimistic. Nevertheless, the downward continues.
Oil workers in red work overalls can be seen everywhere in the streets of Punto Fijo, either hailing taxis or waiting in the shade of trees for public transportation. Due to the ongoing economic crisis that has also affected Venezuela’s transportation industry – like countless other industries here – many cars and taxis in these parts and others in this resource-rich country don’t have air conditioning and/or visually lack some part or another such as a rearview or side mirror, working locks, a speedometer or a functioning trunk. The market for used tires, or anything used, is booming in Venezuela as new tire imports have come to a virtual halt.
Inside the CRP complex – physically off limits to visitors without permission from PDVSA but very visible through the wired fences — the scene within is arguably not much better, as years of under-investment on maintenance, upgrades and safety protocols by the state oil company have unfortunately left the refineries and the grounds similarly forsaken. Against a backdrop of a country in the midst of an ongoing political crisis, many refinery workers here say a combination of 12-16 hours work days, a lack of employee benefits and arguably the lowest salaries for refinery workers anywhere in the world (in dollar terms) has also taken a toll on them as well as their colleagues.
Whether the refineries or the workers are in worst condition, is a judgment call, but at first glance they both appear to be on their last legs.
In the last eight years, PDVSA’s refining, trade and supply division accumulated net losses in each of the consecutive years since 2008, which was the last time the division reported a positive gain from its combined operations in Venezuela. All tallied, the division accumulated losses of $53 billion during 2008-2015, according to data compiled from PDVSA’s financial reports.
“With a cash crunch they have focused all efforts in the upstream where you make the money,” said Francisco J. Monaldi, Ph.D. and Fellow in Latin American Energy Policy & Lecturer in Energy Economics at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy in an e-mailed response to questions. “The lack of human resources adds to the lack of investment to generate the operational difficulties.”
Refining sector stoppages and costly repairs are generating large production and economic losses for PDVSA, said oil union representative Larry López during a late afternoon sit down chat at a run-down restaurant just two blocks from the Amuay refinery.
Venezuela doesn’t need refineries to be a major exporting country, former PDVSA President Rafael Ramírez told me in 2014 during a company-sponsored media trip to visit the CRP on the anniversary of the deadly explosion at Amuay that left at least 48 people dead. To this day, it is unclear if those comments justify the lack of attention that has been given to the country’s refining sector even now under the leadership of Stanford-trained Eulogio Del Pino.
Venezuela’s Information Ministry, the clearing house for questions for all of the country’s ministries, and media officials with PDVSA and the Venezuelan Oil Ministry did not reply to emails seeking comment on the company’s refining sector strategy or general comments for this article. Venezuela’s newly elected Petroleum Chamber President was also unavailable to comment on this article.
“Our refineries have always produced products to cover demand in the domestic market as well as the Caribbean. To export to the US and Europe we really don’t need to have refineries,” said Carlos Rossi, president of Caracas-based consulting firm EnergyNomics and formerly an economist with the Venezuelan Hydrocarbons Association or AVHI, in an interview in Caracas.
“Because the refineries have been seen as a low priority, PDVSA has focused more attention on the Faja,” said Rossi referring to the Hugo Chávez Oil Belt, formerly known as the Orinoco Heavy Oil Belt, home to one of the largest non-conventional oil deposits in the world.
PDVSA’s total hydrocarbon workforce mushroomed during 2000-2015 as the company stressed more importance on political affiliation and less on university or technical experience, said Eddie Ramírez, the director of Gente del Petróleo and a former PDVSA employee, in a phone interview from Caracas. At year-end 2015, PDVSA employed 114,259 direct hydrocarbon sector workers, up from just 42,267 when Chávez rose to power in 1999, according to PDVSA data.
PDVSA’s refining sector, which employed 9,391 workers in 2015, represented just 8.2 percent of the company’s total workforce in that year. In 2010, just 3,584 workers were employed in the refining sector, which represented a mere 3.8 percent of PDVSA’s total workforce.
Given PDVSA’s cash problems and its inability to generate positive free cash flow, the company’s plans to build six new multi-billion dollar upgraders, boost oil production and refining capacity to 6,000,000 barrels per day and 1,800,000 barrels per day respectively by 2019 seem to be optimistic and represent a major challenge for the state oil company.
PDVSA owns six refineries in Venezuela, which the company reports are strategically located to supply refined products to its major consumers. The refineries – which had a total combined processing capacity of 1,303,000 barrels per day, as of year-end 2015 – produce a product slate including but limited to: 91 and 95 grade gasolines, jet and diesel fuel, light naphtha, liquefied petroleum gas, solvents and residuals.
Due to a combination of problems, the six refineries were just processing a combined 616,000 barrels per day in August 2016, translating into an average utilization for PDVSA’s domestic refineries of 47.3 percent, said Ivan Freites, an oil union official with the United Federation of Venezuelan Oil Workers or FUTPV, which represents a large portion of PDVSA’s workers, during an interview in Punto Fijo.
Two refineries are located in Venezuela’s western Falcon state including: Amuay, with a 645,000 barrel-a-day processing capacity; Cardón, with a 310,000 barrel-a-day capacity; while the smaller Bajo Grande is located in Zulia state, with a 16,000 barrel-a-day capacity. Together, the three refineries make up the CRP, according to PDVSA’s annual report for 2015, with a product slate destined 55 percent for the domestic market and 45 percent for the export market.
More centrally located is the El Palito refinery in Carabobo state with a 140,000 barrel-a-day capacity while the remaining two refineries located in Venezuela’s eastern Anzoátegui state include Puerto La Cruz, with an 187,000 barrel-a-day capacity and the smaller San Roque, with a 5,000 barrel-a-day capacity.
In 2015, Venezuela’s domestic refining sector reported average utilization rates of 66.2 percent, according to PDVSA’s operational and financial data from last year. This compares to an average utilization rate of 70.6 percent in 2014 and an average utilization rate of 72.8 percent during 2011-2014.
The CRP has suffered much more deterioration and lower utilization rates than the other refineries. Average utilization rates at the complex reached just 60.5 percent in 2015, down compared to 72 percent in 2011 and an average 67.7 percent during 2011-2014, according to PDVSA data, which differs to what oil union officials report.
“Average utilization rates at the CRP were just 53 percent in 2015,” said Freites, a stocky, long-time oil union official. “The complex is damaged to the point that it almost makes better sense to build new refineries than to fix the incalculable problems that exist.”
In contrast, average utilization rates at El Palito reached 71.4 percent in 2015, down from 90.7 percent in 2011 and an average 89.5 percent during 2011-2014 while at Puerto La Cruz rates reached 93.2 percent in 2015, up from 88 percent in 2011 and an average 88.6 percent during 2011-2014, according to PDVSA.
Figures reported by PDVSA are always overly positive and extremely optimistic, said Freites, 53, during an early happy hour brunch which included Venezuelan ‘tequeños’, a special mix here of fried cornmeal with cheese on the inside accompanied with another popular import here: whisky.
From oil towns in Midland, Texas to Maracaibo to Monagas and Punto Fijo in Venezuela, oil men have at least one thing in common: their love for food and the typical companions Grants, Chivas, and the rest of the supporting cast. However, the economic crisis here has forced many oilmen to settle for whatever is available at the kitchen table. With bottled water sometimes unavailable, Johnnie Walker becomes a name to trust.
PDVSA data differs significantly from that provided by oil union officials here and other international agencies due to the opaque operating and reporting nature of the state oil company. A quick comparison of Venezuela’s production figures as reported by PDVSA and Venezuela’s Oil Ministry as compared to figures reported by OPEC in its monthly reports or even BP in its yearly statistical review serve to prove the point.
Cash-strapped PDVSA recently reiterated plans to boost its domestic refining capacity to 1,800,000 barrels per day by 2019 but has not detailed plans for its existing refineries – which continue to process at less than optimal levels – and has been quiet about plans to build new refining capacity. Only the Puerto La Cruz refinery is known to be undergoing a deep conversion process aimed at boosting its ability to process heavier Venezuelan crudes, according to PDVSA.
Recent agreements signed by PDVSA with authorities from the governments of Aruba, Venezuela and Citgo Aruba related to the restart of a 209,000 barrel-per-day refinery located in San Nicolas, Aruba point to potential issues PDVSA may have building new refineries or even six planned new upgraders, a special type of refinery, due to financial constraints whereby at first glance it appears easier to buy refining capacity than build it from scratch.
It is not a priority to build refineries since it is much better to invest in upstream activities to maximize your limited resources, said Monaldi, also the founding director and a professor at the Center for Energy and the Environment at IESA in Venezuela. New refineries are not great moneymakers and require low capital cost to make any money, he said.
Just a handful of streets separate the Amuay refinery from the Las Piedras fishing neighborhood. Not far away, rusted out American gas-guzzlers like the Ford Maverick and even the Ford F-1, seemly pulled straight off the set of the 1970’s U.S. television show Sanford and Son, can be seen littering the narrow streets here as well as the ones behind Cardón refinery in the neighborhood that bears its name, Punta Cardón. Residents of the latter neighborhood, basically live under the constant flare of gas and whatever else might come from the refinery that is practically in their backyards.
All of PDVSA’s Venezuelan refineries seem to suffer from some type of operational deficiency. At any given time and sometimes at the same various units from different refineries are down for unplanned repairs ranging from the Amuay flexicoker, alkylation, and catalytic units; the Cardón distillation units; the three Puerto La Cruz atmospheric distillation units to the El Palito FCC unit, thus, drastically reducing domestic processing capacity and output, said Frietes. On a number of occasions in the past two years complete operations at PDVSA’s principal refineries have been halted due to operational issues.
Reduced utilization rates at the CRP have created shortages of oil derivatives including unfinished oils, lubricants, finished motor gasoline and special naphthas. As a result, Venezuela is importing more derivatives such as products for gasoline as well as light oils from the U.S. and even far off countries such as Russia and Algeria to mix with its heavy and extra-heavy crude oils produced in the Faja, even as it continues to offer oil to regional neighbors ranging from Cuba to Nicaragua under attractive financing terms.
Despite the need to import oil and products, Venezuelan oil exports continued to member countries belonging to regional initiatives ranging from the Cuba-Venezuela Cooperation Agreement (CIC) to PetroCaribe but declined 6.6 percent to 185,000 barrels per day in 2015 compared to 198,000 barrels per day in 2014, according to PDVSA data. The volumes in 2015 were down 27.3 percent compared to 255,000 barrels per day supplied to member countries in 2009.
“PDVSA continues to give away oil while in Venezuela inventories of gasoline, gasoil, diesel, LPG and lubricants are insufficient to cover domestic demand,” said Freites, a stern critic of PDVSA.
Operating deficiencies in Venezuela have created export opportunities for refiners along the North American Gulf Coast. U.S. net imports of oil and refined products from Venezuela ranging from distillate fuel oil to MTBE (oxygenate) averaged 751,000 barrels a day in the 12-month period ended June 2016 compared to 711,000 barrels a day in the same year-ago period, according to data posted to the U.S.-based Energy Information Administration’s website. However, U.S. net imports of the same products from Venezuela averaged 1,590,000 barrels-a-day in the 12-month period ended June 2001 in the early years of the Chávez government.
Productivity at the CRP is down due to the increase in workers and the decline in output, said a former PDVSA refinery safety manager who worked for 29-years at the company. He didn’t want to reveal his name since he still does contract work for PDVSA in Punto Fijo and feared retaliation from the company. Oil workers must be oil workers and not politically divided like today as it is affecting the productivity of the employees and the company, he said during an interview at a small building in downtown Punto Fijo which serves as the local office of the FUTPV.
“It is still politically hard to justify massive Imports. But the economics are very clear. In the long run, if you can sustain international market prices in the domestic market you may be able to open the downstream to private investment,” said Monaldi.
Grade school kids and university students blend into the scenery of an oil town gone bust. Many will never reach PDVSA’s professional ranks unless they have connections within the company and/or support the socialist ideas, or at least those expressed by Maduro and his government. More than anything, PDVSA refinery workers in faded red work overalls dominate the landscape in Punto Fijo and the surrounding towns seemingly unaffected by hot weather, strong wind gusts and refineries constantly emitting gas and other substances into the air. What has affected them is the continued economic crisis and low wages, many say here.
Under the sweltering sun, improvisations are the order of the day at the CRP for many refining workers frequently forced to scramble to solve recurring small problems turned into major ones due to the lack of basic replacement parts. The practice of using emergency stapling techniques to fix routine vapor leaks at processing units, or product leaks along pipelines, is commonplace nowadays, says Freites, who is the spokesperson for many refining and oil union workers not willing to go on record due to fear of retaliation or work dismissal from PDVSA.
Similar scenes are said to resonate at the Puerto La Cruz and El Palito refineries, said José Bodas, another oil union official, in a telephone interview from Carabobo state.
PDVSA is using stapling methods to fix pipeline and unit leaks instead of properly fixing or repairing them due to a lack of funds to procure the necessary replacement parts, said the former PDVSA safety manager. PDVSA is more reactive than preventative and is conducting more corrective maintenance than preventative maintenance due to the lack of financial resources. It’s not necessarily a money thing but just the way PDVSA works today, he said.
Lackluster security measures to protect the PDVSA refineries and workers have allowed crime incidents to edge up within the complexes’ gates. Stolen work bags and purses, missing clothing and other personal items and car break-ins are daily work hazards beyond those related to working in a domestic refining sector where accidents, sadly enough, are more the norm than in many other countries with refining operations. In the country with the highest murder rate in the world, according to the website WorldAtlas.com, not even the confines of the refinery complex are safe enough to shield workers from the realities on the streets in Punto Fijo, Ciudad Ojeda, Anaco and other major oil and gas towns across Venezuela.
Safety is no longer a priority for PDVSA as funds are being spent haphazardly on non-necessary projects, said the former PDVSA safety manager with his salt-and-pepper mustache and Italian surname. He says many current PDVSA bosses only respond to accidents when they are officially reported by the media.
On its part, PDVSA claims there were just 154 total injuries at the CRP, El Palito and Puerto La Cruz refineries in 2015. This compares to 173 in 2014, 276 in 2012, and 298 in 2010, according to PDVSA data in its social and environmental statements on its website. Still, union officials here say the numbers don’t reflect the real case scenario since a lot of accidents and injuries go undocumented.
As the sun falls over the horizon, workers use their mobile phones in some areas of the CRP seemly unaware of the work hazards. Thieves that regularly enter the complex via the various gate openings to rob copper, bronze, nickel as well as other materials and equipment, also rob workers of their mobile phones whenever possible. The resale market for mobile phone parts is big in Venezuela amid an economic crisis that has impacted not just food importers, but the telecommunications and airline industries as well, among others.
The multiplier effect on this town and surrounding communities can visibly be seen in the fishing regions of Punto Fijo from Las Piedras to Los Taques where white and blue collar oil workers in the good ole days would be seen almost everywhere eating and taking in the sun with family and coworkers or clients. That’s not the scene here anymore. Local mayors have for years promised money to fishing communities and fishermen in the region but many, like other family members, remain unemployed. Many have turned to crime to rob and steal things they can resell to get basics like food or medicines for their families.
“Whatever was taken over from the transnational companies doesn’t work here,” said Jaime Antonio Diaz, 44, during an interview at a lightless restaurant in Los Taques. “If the Fourth Republic was bad, then the Fifth Republic is the worst,” he said as a stray cat entered the premise through an entrance door kept open to let in fresh air and natural light.
Diaz’s comments refer to the two most recent republics in Venezuela. The Fourth Republic was the period in Venezuelan history marked by the Punto Fijo Pact in 1958 for the acceptance of democratic elections in that year. Nationalization of Venezuela’s oil industry was a point frequently criticized by Chávez as a one of many failures of the Fourth Republic. The Fifth Republic Movement (MVR by its Spanish acronym) was a leftist political party founded in the late 1990s by then-presidential candidate Chávez. It was later dissolved in 2007 to give way to Chávez’s new political party the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
From refinery workers fleeing low pay and increased worksite accidents to unemployed fishermen and engineers driving taxis, Punto Fijo is going through what many say is one of its worst periods in decades.
Within visible distance of the dirt roads of Los Taques nearly 30 or more towering wind power turbines can be seen off the immediate horizon on the return trip from Los Taques to Punto Fijo. Despite the strong winds here, the turbines are not operational and have yet to generate power for commercial or domestic usage, according to Freites, owing to corrupt deals between Venezuelan government officials and the company that supplied the towers. Venezuela – which has long suffered from a natural gas deficit in its industrialized western Zulia state – has plans to use non-associated natural gas production from the Cardón IV offshore project as well as power generated by these turbines to reduce the need to import costly diesel fuel. From the look of things here, it is quite obvious the latter is not something PDVSA officials want to openly talk or brag about. However, it’s safe to assume somebody made a killing on the turbine deal.
While the wind turbine project – like others envisioned in this small country with a population close to 31 million – looks good on paper in the boardroom, the corruption here more often than not turns the project into a financial bonus for some individuals at the costs of local jobs and wasted resources for a country teetering on the brink of financial default.
One thing continues to thrive here: the contraband of fuels. Contraband of cheap Venezuelan gasoline continues to nearby Colombia, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Aruba despite efforts to deter it and a decision by this government to boost gasoline prices in February of 2016 to 6 bolivars a liter from 9.7 centavos. While demand for gasoline has declined in Venezuela due to economic crisis and a higher cost for gasoline, its elevated price is still quite low compared to nearby markets; thus, making it still very attractive for trade internationally.
Large fishing boats – refitted by the Venezuelan military and now under the control of military officers that pose as fishermen – continue to leave the pier near Las Piedras with domestic fuel. These so-called ‘gasoil mafias’ continue to exchange Venezuelan refined products on the high seas in international waters in seemingly another way the military is kept happy and loyal by Maduro and company, according to Rossi, author of the book ‘The Completion of the Oil Era: The Economic Impact (Energy Policies, Politics and Prices).’
Barefoot grade school kids with just shorts on, play baseball on the dirt roads and side streets in numerous poor communities in and around Punto Fijo. Using broomsticks and makeshift baseballs, they can be seen enjoying their game despite the extreme poverty they live in and not having gloves. Despite being a Latin American country, baseball, not soccer is the sport of choice here and seen here as the way to rise out of poverty, at least for many males. On the other side, females here dream of being Ms. Venezuela or Ms. World.
“This government only saves itself by changing the model,” said León, referring to what the Maduro government needs to do to stay in power.
Whether the model change comes tomorrow, next year or in 2019, Venezuela’s hydrocarbon sector is in need of drastic changes. However drastic and radical these changes may have to be, investors will continue to keep Venezuela on their radar screens, hoping for a chance to invest in the country with one of the largest resource bases on the planet. However, from the looks of things, with foreign diplomats and oil men continuing to get kidnapped here, Venezuela is not yet ready for the massive return of foreign companies or better yet the foreign companies aren’t ready to return under the existing circumstances.
The recently announced departure of Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services company, should serve as a reminder to potential investors about the condition of the oil sector here which still contends with a massive brain drain of national and international talent from companies from Halliburton to Total, Chevron, Statoil and a host of smaller companies lacking the deep pockets to survive without quarterly or sometimes monthly cash flow.
“The low wages continue to produce brain drain and that makes worse the operational problems,” said Monaldi.
Top Venezuelan officials and PDVSA executives blame the economic and petroleum sector crisis here on an economic war waged they say by opposition leaders with the backing of persons and institutions from Bogotá, Miami, Washington and even Madrid. The open denial of internal problems created by widespread mismanagement, errored financial and economic decisions as well as a number of actions including asset expropriations have handcuffed the country’s private sector and brought the all-important petroleum sector to a near halt. That hasn’t stopped other countries from stepping in to fill the void when and where it is possible. Case in point: Algeria just started to supply oil to Cuba amid mounting issues at PDVSA.
The Amuay explosion on August 25, 2012, as regrettable as it was, was an early wake-up call about what PDVSA had (and has) become after more than a decade of so-called socialism. Amid continued corruption at PDVSA and a hydrocarbon sector where funds mysteriously disappear, the financial and economic dreams of a handful or more have smashed the hopes of many in Punto Fijo and all across this major oil producing South American country.
“A lot of people here are changing sides due to the mismanagement of resources by the Chávez and now the Maduro government,” said Ali, a 50-year old taxi driver of an old Toyota Corolla, who requested his last name not be used in this article for fear of retaliation from PDVSA or government officials.
Ali’s sentiment resonates across all parts of this country from many petroleum engineers and other professionals that have left the industry to drive a taxi, wait tables or do anything where the wages are better.
“The sad part of all this is that we could have another August 25th,” said Freites.
(Editing by Peter Wilson)
(MEO Australia Ltd., 3.Sep.2015) – MEO Australia Limited executed the Cuba Block 9 Production Sharing Contract (PSC) with the national oil company Cuba Petroleo Union (CUPET) in a ceremony in Havana, Cuba.
The ceremony was attended by dignitaries including Juan Torres Naranjo, general director of CUPET and representatives of MEO, including Managing Director & CEO Peter Stickland. The execution of the Block 9 PSC represents the culmination of over 3-years of negotiations between MEO and CUPET and is MEO’s first entry into the Cuban oil and gas sector.
“As an early mover into Cuba, MEO is now one of the few western companies with a footprint in the expanding Cuban hydrocarbon sector,” MEO reported, citing the company MD and CEO Peter Stickland. “The geology of the block has analogies to petroleum systems in which MEO’s technical personnel have significant experience, and we see substantial potential in Cuba overall and Block 9 in particular.”
The Block 9 PSC area is in a proven hydrocarbon system with multiple discoveries within close proximity, including the multi-billion barrel Varadero oil field. Block 9 contains the Motembo field, the first oil field discovered in Cuba. The exploration period of the Block 9 PSC is split into 4 sub-periods totaling 8.5years with withdrawal options at the end of each sub-period. MEO will immediately commence work on the initial activity of evaluating the existing exploration data in the block and reprocessing selected 2D seismic data before determining whether to proceed with a subsequent 24-month exploration sub-period that includes acquisition of new 2D seismic data.