PDVSA Preparing $950 Million Payment On 2020 Bond: Sources

(Reuters, 15.Oct.2018) — Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA is preparing to pay holders of its 2020 bond some $950 million this month, after failing to make interest payments on most other bonds this year, sources at the company and in the local financial sector said.

PDVSA has fallen behind on more than $7 billion in principal and interest payments since the end of 2017, according to market sources and Refinitiv data, as an economic crisis in Venezuela has worsened.

But cash-strapped PDVSA has stayed current on the 2020 issue, which is backed by 50.1 percent of shares in U.S. refining network Citgo.

“Quevedo gave his approval to arrange this payment,” said one person at PDVSA familiar with the plans, referring to Manuel Quevedo, Venezuela’s oil minister who is also president of PDVSA. “It will be paid in full.”

Another source at PDVSA and three sources in Venezuela’s financial industry confirmed that the company plans to pay. The sources spoke last week and requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Neither PDVSA nor Venezuela’s oil ministry immediately responded to requests for comment.

PDVSA must pay $840 million by Oct. 27 to cover an amortization payment on the bond, and then has 30 more days to make a $107 million interest payment.

“PDVSA has been making payments on the 2020 bond and they tell us they plan to keep doing so,” said one local financial operator who has spoken with the company about the plans.

To be sure, this year PDVSA has made payments only on its 2020 and 2022 bonds, prompting ratings agencies to declare the company and Venezuela’s government in selective default. The drop in crude prices that began in 2014 and an ensuing decline in production have reduced the OPEC nation’s government revenue.

Investors believe PDVSA will prioritize the 2020 bond because of the potential implications for Citgo. The remaining shares in the refiner are already pledged to Russia’s Rosneft as collateral on a $1.5 billion loan.

And it is also under threat from Canadian miner Crystallex, which has won a judge’s authorization to seize Citgo shares to collect on a $1.4 billion award stemming from a decade-long nationalization dispute.

“PDVSA has demonstrated via its legal efforts a strong preference to maintain ownership of Citgo,” JP Morgan wrote in a note to clients last week.

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#LatAmNRG

U.S. Company Manager Pleads Guilty in PDVSA Bribery Scheme

(Reuters, 13.Sep.2018) — A former manager of a U.S.-based logistics company pleaded guilty on Thursday to paying bribes to secure contracts from Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA, and the guilty plea of the official who was bribed was also unsealed, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Juan Carlos Castillo Rincon, 55, pleaded guilty in federal court in Houston to conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the Justice Department said in a statement.

Judge Nancy K. Johnson also unsealed the guilty plea of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) official Jose Orlando Camacho, 46, whom Castillo had bribed, it said.

Camacho had pleaded under seal to conspiracy to commit money laundering in July 2017, the statement said. It referred to Camacho as a “foreign official” but did not specify the position he held in the company, Petroleos de Venezuela.

Fourteen people have now pleaded guilty as part of an investigation by the Justice Department into bribery at PDVSA that became public with the arrest of two Venezuelan businessmen in December 2015.

Castillo, of Conroe, Texas, was arrested in Miami in April after he was indicted by a grand jury, the statement said.

A manager at a Houston-based logistics and freight forwarding company, Castillo admitted to conspiring with others to bribe Camacho from 2011 through at least 2013 in exchange for help in obtaining contracts and inside information about the company’s bidding process.

The Justice Department said that Camacho, of Miami, admitted as part of his plea deal to accepting bribes from Castillo and the company he worked for, as well as conspiring with him to launder proceeds of the scheme.

Castillo and Camacho have agreed to forfeit the proceeds from their criminal activity, and both are scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 21, the Justice Department said.

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Venezuelan Oil Assets to be Seized by Creditors

(Express, Simon Osborne, 16.Aug.2018) – Venezuela’s oil assets are being targeted by angry creditors after a US court granted a Canadian mining company permission to send in the bailiffs.

Firms owed billions by the beleaguered South American country and its state-owned oil firm PDVSA are now lining up to make sure they get a pay-out.

The Venezuelan economy is crippled by hyperinflation and the discredited regime of President Nicolás Maduro faces trade sanctions from the US, EU, Canada and Latin America’s biggest countries.

The country is essentially bankrupt and creditors see its oil assets as their best bet with the biggest target being Citgo, a Texas-based oil refiner that processes Venezuelan crude oil and is estimated to be worth roughly £3.15bn.

Oil tankers could also be targeted as US hedge fund Elliott Management did with an Argentine ship in 2012 after it won a US court ruling to collect on unpaid debts.

Venezuela, which is overdue on about £4.5bn in debt payments, is reportedly transferring oil cargoes to safe harbours including Cuba to avoid such risks.

Canadian mining company Crystallex won a key battle in its attempts to force Venezuela to pay £1.1bn in compensation for expropriation of a mining project when a US judge accepted its argument that PDVSA was an “alter ego” of the Venezuelan state and gave it the right to seize PDVSA assets in the US.

Francisco Rodriguez, chief economist of Torino Capital said the ruling could serve as a precedent.

He said: “This judgment is unambiguously negative for Venezuela, given its loss of an asset of significant value. In all likelihood the ruling will spur creditors to attempt to pursue PDVSA assets.”

ConocoPhillips has already won a £1.57bn arbitration award against PDVSA from the International Chamber of Commerce, the US oil major seized the company’s assets in the Caribbean.

The seizures left PDVSA without access to facilities that process almost a quarter of Venezuela’s oil exports.

To avoid the risk of other assets being taken, PDVSA asked its customers to load oil from its anchored vessels acting as floating storage units.

Citgo’s complicated ownership – half the company is security against more than £2.36bn of PDVSA bonds and half is collateral for a £1.18bn loan from Russian oil giant Rosneft – means any immediate plundering of its assets is extremely unlikely.

Robert Kahn, a professor at the American University and a former International Monetary Fund official, said: “The ruling is a win for Crystallex, no doubt. But I’m not convinced that it immediately marks a tipping point.”

Richard Cooper, senior partner at New York law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, said: “The Crystallex ruling doesn’t mean that every Republic of Venezuela bondholder can automatically assume that PDVSA assets are available to them.”

Venezuela also owes tens of billions of dollars to China and Russia but its sole foreign-exchange generating industry is in steep decline with oil output dropping below the 1947 levels of 1.3m barrels per day.

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Venezuela’s Citgo Refineries At Risk Of Seizure

BOSTON, MA: People walk through the rain in front of the Citgo sign in Kenmore Square, Boston, July 18, 2016. (Photo by Timothy Tai for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

(Forbes, Robert Rapie, 12.Aug.2018) – In 2007, following Venezuela’s expropriation of billions of dollars of assets from U.S. companies like ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, I suggested a potential remedy.

Since Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA (Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A.) owns the Citgo refineries in the U.S., I felt the companies that had lost billions of dollars of assets could target these refineries for seizure as compensation.

These refineries have the same vulnerabilities as the U.S. assets in Venezuela that were seized. They represent infrastructure on the ground that can’t be removed from the country.

Citgo has three major refining complexes in the U.S. with a total refining capacity of 750,000 barrels per day. Recognizing the vulnerability from asset seizure, PDVSA tried to sell these assets in 2014, and valued them at $10 billion. But that value have been grossly overstated, considering that Venezuela subsequently pledged 49.9% of Citgo to Russian oil giant Rosneft as collateral for a $1.5 billion loan.

In recent years, PDVSA has lost a series of arbitration awards related to expropriations, and companies have been looking for opportunities to collect. In May, ConocoPhillips seized some PDVSA assets in the Caribbean to partially enforce a $2 billion arbitration award for Venezuela’s 2007 expropriation.

ConocoPhillips had sought up to $22 billion — the largest claim against PDVSA — for the broken contracts from its Hamaca and Petrozuata oil projects. The company is pursuing a separate arbitration case against Venezuela before the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). The ICSID has already declared Venezuela’s takeover unlawful, opening the way for another multi-billion dollar settlement award that may happen before year-end.

MORE FROM FORBES

Last week, a court ruling opened the door for Citgo assets to be seized to pay for these judgments.

Defunct Canadian gold miner Crystallex had been awarded a $1.4 billion judgment over Venezuela’s 2008 nationalization of a Crystallex gold mining operation in the country. A U.S. federal judge ruled that a creditor could seize Citgo’s assets to enforce this award.

This ruling is sure to set off a feeding frenzy among those that have won arbitration rulings against Venezuela. Until the legal rulings are settled, it’s hard to say which companies will end up with Citgo’s assets. But it’s looking far more likely it won’t be PDVSA.

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U.S. Judge Authorizes Seizure of Venezuela’s Citgo

(The Wall Street Journal, Andrew Scurria and Julie Wernau, 9.Aug.2018) – A U.S. federal judge authorized the seizure of Citgo Petroleum Corp. to satisfy a Venezuelan government debt, a ruling that could set off a scramble among Venezuela’s many unpaid creditors to wrest control of its only obviously seizable U.S. asset.

Judge Leonard P. Stark of the U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Del., issued the ruling Thursday. However, his full opinion, which could include conditions or impose further legal hurdles, was sealed. A redacted version is expected to be available at a later date.

The court order raises the likelihood that Venezuela’s state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela SA, will lose control of a valuable external asset amid the country’s deepening economic and political crisis. The decision could still be appealed to a higher, federal court.

Attorneys for PdVSA weren’t available for comment. Citgo declined to comment.

Crystallex International Corp., a defunct Canadian gold miner that filed the legal action, is trying to collect on a judgment over lost mining rights involving Venezuela’s government. It has targeted Citgo, an oil refiner, because this is the largest U.S. asset of the cash-strapped and crisis-riven country.

Many other creditors of Venezuela are also circling Citgo, but Crystallex is the first to win a judgment authorizing its seizure. Crystallex had argued that Citgo was ultimately owned by PdVSA, which is an “alter ego” of Venezuela that is liable for the South American country’s debts. The judge’s decision in favor of Crystallex allows it to take control of shares of Citgo’s U.S.-based parent company, the first step toward a sale of the company.

Venezuela and its various state-controlled entities together have $62 billion of unsecured bonds outstanding, with approximately $5 billion so far in unpaid interest and principal. Analysts estimate that the government has approximately $150 billion total in debt outstanding to creditors around the world.

Venezuela and its state-controlled entities including PdVSA began missing bond payments last year and have since spiraled into a widespread default. U.S. sanctions bar creditors from engaging the Venezuelan government in any kind of restructuring or buying new debt.

For Venezuela, losing control of Citgo could jeopardize one of its only remaining sources of oil revenue, the U.S. At the same time, investors in Venezuela’s defaulted debt—as well at least 43 companies pursuing legal claims against the government—risk losing one of the few obvious assets in the U.S. that can be seized for repayment.

The only payment made this year by Venezuela was $107 million on its PdVSA bonds, due 2020, for which Citgo is pledged as collateral. That was a clear move by Caracas to protect that asset, analysts have said.

Without ownership of Citgo, investors worry PdVSA would have little incentive to continue to pay on the debt

Any sale of Citgo stock would require U.S. Treasury Department approval, and Crystallex needs to clear other legal hurdles before the shares could be sold.

In trying to lay claim to Citgo, creditors are following a familiar playbook. Hedge funds led by Elliott Management Corp. did something similar when they went after Argentine assets following that country’s 2001 default, the largest sovereign default at the time, on more than $80 billion in sovereign debt.

When Argentina refused to pay settlements arising from the default, the hedge funds sought out Argentine assets to seize and argued that everything from the assets of its central bank to its state-controlled oil company were an “alter ego” of the state.

Elliott in 2012 persuaded a Ghanaian court to impound a training vessel of the Argentine Navy, and in 2014 asked a California court to block Argentina from launching satellites into space. Argentina settled with the hedge funds in 2016, delivering gains of as much as 900% on some of their original principal investments.

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Unsealing Crystallex/PDVSA Documents

(Energy Analytics Institute, Ian Silverman, 8.Aug.2018) – Chief Judge Stark of the US Federal District Court in Delaware immediately agreed with our arguments calling out the abuse of sealing by Crystallex, Venezuela and PDVSA,  writes Caracas Capital Markets Managing Partner Russ Dallen in an emailed note to clients.

He entered our letter into the Docket and Ordered everything unsealed if Counsel cannot justify (“specifically”) the sealing by 3pm tomorrow:

ORAL ORDER: With reference to the letter received today from the Latin American Herald Tribune, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that, no later than tomorrow, August 9, at 3:00 p.m. local time, any party (including the intervenor) who wishes for any portion of the record or any filing to remain under seal file a request to that effect and SHOW CAUSE to support the request. Any such request must be specific as to the type of information for which continued sealing is requested and shall provide for filing of redacted versions of any materials that currently remain unredacted as soon as possible. In the absence of cause being shown, the Court will unseal the entirety of the record in this case, including all filings. ORDERED by Judge Leonard P. Stark on 8/8/18. (ntl) (Entered: 08/08/2018)

We have a voracious and insatiable appetite for truth — which is probably what makes us the best at covering Venezuela as well as other issues for our clients, writes Dallen.

“As a result, this morning we spoke with U.S. Federal District Court for Delaware Chief Judge Stark’s chambers and filed this Intervenor Letter (our 2nd in this Crystallex case) calling for the unsealing of documents that Crystallex, PDVSA and hedge fund Tenor Capital were abusively sealing,” concluded Dallen.

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U.S. Revokes Visa of Citgo CEO

Asdrubal Chavez Source: Bloomberg

(Bloomberg, Lucia Kassai and Fabiola Zerpa, 18.Jul.2018) – Being a blood relative of Hugo Chavez used to open doors. Now Asdrubal Chavez, cousin of the late Venezuelan socialist leader, is finding out it can close some as well.

In the most recent blow against Venezuela, the U.S. revoked the visa of Chavez, chief executive officer of Petroleos de Venezuela SA’s U.S. refining unit Citgo Petroleum Corp. and a former oil minister. He will be burdened with the task of commanding from outside the U.S. three refineries with a combined capacity to process 749,000 barrels of oil daily and an army of 3,500 employees.

Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil reserves, has seen its production slide by more than one-third since late 2015, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Its output may sink from 1.34 million barrels a day in June to just over 1 million, Torino Capital chief economist Francisco Rodriguez wrote in a note. U.S. sanctions have accelerated the decline, as have lawsuits by ConocoPhillips to claim assets as payment for an arbitration award.

The U.S. has sanctioned at least 48 Venezuelan nationals associated with economic mismanagement and corruption, including President Nicolas Maduro, and has provisionally revoked tens of thousands of visas in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s travel ban. Still, kicking out a C-suite executive of the country is rare.

The revocation “does not change anything at Citgo in terms of its management and operations,” the company said in an emailed statement.

The State Department declined to comment on individual visa cases.

It’s unclear to where Chavez, who used to work from Citgo’s headquarters in Houston, will move. One of the possibilities would be for him to be based out of Aruba, where Citgo is seeking to refurbish a refinery and convert it into an oil upgrader that will transform extra-heavy Venezuelan oil into refinery-ready synthetic grades.

— With assistance by Nick Wadhams
***

Citgo Appoints Aruba Refinery Executives

(Reuters, 28.Jun.2018) – Citgo Petroleum, the U.S. refining arm of Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA, said it appointed two senior executives to new positions as it works to refurbish an idled Aruba refinery.

Luis Marquez was named vice president and general manager at the refinery, a 235,000-barrel-per-day plant in San Nicholas that has been awaiting an overhaul. Edward Oduber also was appointed interim on-site project manager for the refurbishment of the refinery, during Phase II of the project, the company said.

Citgo in 2016 signed an up to 25-year lease with the government of Aruba to refurbish and operate the plant as part of a $685 million project. Earlier this year, it had slowed work on the overhaul due to a lack of credit.

Marquez, who replaced interim general manager Raymond Buckley, began his career in 1981 at the Amuay Refinery in Venezuela and has held positions at PDVSA International Refining, PDVSA Argentina, PDVSA Ecuador, and Petrocedeño, the company said.

Edward began at the San Nicolas refinery in Aruba in 1990, and held positions with Citgo Aruba, Valero Aruba, and Coastal Aruba.

Citgo said that Joe Crawford Jr will continue as general manager maintenance and operations overseeing the operating portions of the facility along with the loading facilities, terminal and distribution network. (Reporting by Gary McWilliams; Editing by Amrutha Gayathri)

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Venezuela Upgraders Halting Ops Amid Export Crisis

(Reuters, Deisy Buitrago, Marianna Parraga, 12.Jun.2018) – Venezuela’s state-run PDVSA [PDVSA.UL] and partners have halted operations at two upgraders that convert extra-heavy oil into exportable crude and plan to stop work at two others, according to six sources close to the projects, a move aimed at easing the strains from a tanker backlog that is delaying shipments.

Venezuela’s largest upgrader, Petrocedeno – operated by PDVSA, Total and Equinor – was halted this week for repairs and a lack of raw materials. The companies turned the stoppage into an expanded maintenance project.

Petropiar, a venture between PDVSA and Chevron Corp, also halted work this month due to lack of spare parts.

PDVSA and its partners typically produce diluted crude oil (DCO), made with extra-heavy crude and imported naphtha, during maintenance, but production and export levels usually decline compared with regular output.

Most of Venezuela’s upgraded oil is sold on the open market, not through long-term supply contracts.

PDVSA’s U.S. unit Citgo Petroleum has been importing DCO in recent weeks to cover a portion of the upgraded crude it has not been receiving from joint ventures.

The subsidiary is buying more imported crude, including Ecuadorean and Colombian grades, on the open market to supply its Gulf Coast refineries.

Two of PDVSA’s largest customers, India’s Reliance and Nayara Energy, received 14 percent less heavy Venezuelan crude last month, falling to an average of 342,000 bpd.

Reporting by Deisy Buitrago in Caracas and Marianna Parraga in Houston; Editing by Leslie Adler and Tom Brown

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Venezuela Won’t Have Enough Oil To Export By 2019

(OilPrice.com, Robert Rapier, 12.Jun.2018) – On May 21st President Donald Trump signed a new executive order prohibiting certain oil-related transactions with Venezuela. GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, argues that the new sanctions are symbolic in comparison to the more targeted sanctions previously considered that would limit exports of Venezuelan crude oil to the U.S.

Adrian Lara, Oil & Gas Analyst at GlobalData stated:

“Crude oil production in Venezuela is practically falling at an average of 10% every quarter and has been since mid-2017. A scenario with oil production in the country losing at least another 500,000 barrels per day by the end of the year is not unrealistic. Having full additional sanctions imposed would certainly send a strong geopolitical message from the U.S. at the risk of generating more instability in the world supply markets.”

GlobalData also forecast that Venezuelan crude oil production would fall to around one million barrels per day by the end of 2018. This is a steep decline from the three million barrels per day that Venezuela produced in 2011.

Venezuelan Crude Oil Production

Platts reported this week that Venezuela has already warned eight international customers that it wouldn’t be able to meet its crude oil commitments to them in June. Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA is contractually obligated to supply 1.495 million barrels per day to those customers in June, but only has 694,000 barrels per day available for export.

Impacted U.S. oil companies reportedly include Chevron, “Conoco” and Valero. I suspect “Conoco” is really Phillips 66, the refining arm spun out of ConocoPhillips in 2012.

Venezuela also reportedly has a severe backlog of crude deliveries at its main terminals, and this could temporarily halt PDVSA’s supply contracts if they are not cleared soon. The company has told some customers it may declare force majeure if they do not accept new delivery terms, including higher-cost and riskier seaborne transfers. Brent crude prices moved higher on the news.

But if the GlobalData forecast is correct, then the temporary interruption of Venezuela’s exports may be permanent, as they will be plunging toward zero by the end of the year.

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Venezuelan Decree Aims to Boost PDVSA Oil Capacity

(Energy Analytics Institute, Piero Stewart, 5.Jun.2018) – Decree No. 3368, dated April 12, 2018, and published in Gazette No. 41376, establishes a special transitional regime aimed at boosting Venezuela’s oil production capacity.

Additionally, resolutions No. 051 and 052, published in Gazette No. 41394, dated May 10, 2018, establish measures aimed at simplifying administration procedures at the state oil entity, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., its subsidiaries and joint ventures, announced PDVSA in an official statement.

Important sections of the decree are summarized below:

… Resolution No. 051 establishes actions and measures to effectively contribute to simplify procedures related to acquisition of property, service delivery and execution of works necessary to increase the productive capacity of Corporación Venezolana de Petróleo, S.A. (CVP) and the joint ventures.

… Under Resolution No. 051, PDVSA’s Finance Vice-Presidency is instructed to warranty the financial and budgetary availability for acquisition of property, execution of works, and service delivery, as well as submit an obligatory quarterly report before the governing body, which in turn, shall notify the General Comptroller’s Office.

… Under Resolution No. 052, PDVSA and its subsidiaries are instructed to establish measures and actions that contribute to the administrative simplification for acquisition of property, service delivery and execution of works necessary to increase the productive capacity.

… Finally, the resolution calls for temporary creation of the Special Regime Unity of Public Contracts, with aim to coordinate requirements of areas and businesses belonging to the national oil industry, prioritize contracting processes to contribute to the sustainable increase of the oil production, as well as forward those processes to the various commissions referred in the resolution.

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Venezuela’s Grim Realities

(Anthony Venezia, Energy Intelligence, 30.May.2018) — The political and economic crisis afflicting Venezuela typically makes international headlines in connection with the possibility of sanctions being imposed on Caracas by the US, or the impact on world oil markets of the country’s dwindling crude production. But recent reporting by Energy Intelligence Latin America reporter Anthony Venezia has highlighted the grim on-the-ground realities facing the country’s state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDV), and its desperate workforce.

With much of the rest of the economy at a virtual standstill, PDV is essentially the country’s only source of cash generation, and is now allegedly being preyed upon by racketeers charging it exorbitant prices for goods, Venezuelan industry sources tell Energy Intelligence. Interviews with workers and contractors paint a picture of an anarchistic environment, in which corruption and fraud are commonplace. “There’s no [equipment] supply, but there’s a lot of demand,” one oil industry source says. “So, everybody has to know somebody to get anything.”

Such graft has only exacerbated PDV’s financial problems, which include crushing debt and default on its bonds. Oil output, meanwhile, has slipped to 1.4 million barrels per day from 2.17 million b/d in 2017, according to Energy Intelligence estimates, and the country’s refining complex is in disrepair. And with President Nicolas Maduro winning re-election over the weekend in a vote widely seen as undemocratic, little relief is in sight.

A common racket that sources working in the Venezuelan oil industry describe involves shadowy intermediaries, operating out of residential or even false addresses, that step into transactions between PDV and what few suppliers remain in Venezuela, marking up prices and pocketing the difference. These shadowy intermediaries are referred to as “briefcase companies,” an allusion to how money obtained via graft is commonly perceived to be exchanged. Such illegitimate companies are not unique to the energy sector and appear to hold sway over virtually every part of Venezuela’s weakened economy.

“These organized mafias steal millions of dollars of equipment and then sell it on the black market,” a source at PDV tells Energy Intelligence. “I’m talking thousands of kilometers of cables, pumps, seals, parts.” Multiple sources claim such firms are frequently set up by ex-employees of PDV’s procurement department, who leverage their network to tap into its supply chain.

Plugged In

The firms, likely innumerable across the economy, usually comply with minimum legal requirements such as obtaining a government tax ID. Several sources say company names that convey an air of legitimacy yet remain very generic are common, although the firms often have no fixed addresses, phone numbers or internet presence. Individuals operating such schemes are called “enchufados,” which in Spanish means “plugged in,” as they are connected to industry or political insiders who facilitate purchases.

“You get one of these enchufado guys who finds a supplier and says, ‘you want to sell your pumps, they sell for $60, but I can get PDV to buy 20 of them for $45,'” a source at a major service company says, explaining how a scheme might work in practice. “So, the supplier says, ‘my margin is less, I make them at $40, but OK.’ And the enchufado doesn’t worry because his cousin at PDV is the one approving it,” adds the source, who no longer lives in Venezuela, but still does business there.

The enchufado would then sell the pumps at $60 or more but pay the supplier $45 apiece, splitting the difference with his or her PDV accomplice. Meanwhile, PDV accountants would simply register a finalized purchase at $60 per pump.

With “briefcase companies” monopolizing many transactions, and virtually no one else selling goods on the open market, PDV and other oil companies have little choice but to pay up. “At the end of the day, there’s a well that needs to be worked on … so, they end up paying,” the major service firm source adds.

Markups of 100%-150% on the list price are common, sources say, but might be as high as 1,000% in some cases. One oil industry source in Venezuela recalls a large piece of equipment normally costing around $200,000 being marked up to more than $1 million.

Because the firms have no physical infrastructure to stock items, transactions are generally one-shot affairs carried out in US dollars, as Venezuela’s bolivar has become worthless. Once a sale is complete, the firms are abandoned to cut off paper trails and new ones are set up to continue the racket.

The major service firm employee says the schemes do not even need to be set up inside Venezuela, alleging that a host of ex-PDV logistics staff are operating remotely in and around the Miami, Florida area, with in-country acquaintances doing the dirty work.

Venezuela’s government seems powerless to stop the rackets, despite extensive coverage in the local press. It is likely a PDV audit last December was at least partially undertaken to root out such schemes. Before the late President Hugo Chavez took power in 1999, PDV had essentially zero tolerance for corruption, a source formerly with the firm tells Energy Intelligence. But corruption flourished during Chavez’s decade-plus in power, continued after he died in 2013, and now eats into Venezuela’s shrinking oil revenue stream.

Unable to eliminate the schemes, Venezuela has at times played down the menace they pose. In 2016, for instance, after citizens questioned whether the illicit firms played a role in hyperinflation by artificially driving up prices for everything from food to medicine, officials maintained they were marginal and not a true threat to commerce.

However, in September 2017, Venezuela identified two such “briefcase companies” in the mining and chemical sectors, according to a state news site, supposedly raiding the residences they were registered under.

In that same instance, the government also acknowledged that a similar “multimillion-dollar embezzlement” had occurred in Venezuela’s Orinoco Belt heavy-oil region, perpetrated by what it said were individuals residing in the US.

Rock Bottom

While PDV struggles with the corrosive effects of such widespread graft and corruption, workers in the country’s oil fields are facing even graver challenges, laboring under brutal conditions, from food shortages to a lack of spare parts and even roaming gangs terrorizing employees, stealing what little they have left.

“What you hear from outside is a lot better than what we’re actually living through in the fields,” one source inside Venezuela says. “The morale of the people in the industry has hit rock bottom.”

Multiple sources on the ground in Venezuela, as well as several who have fled the country, paint a bleak picture of working conditions, with PDV apparently unable to provide even the basics. Cafeterias operated by the state oil giant often have no food — mirroring shortages experienced by the wider Venezuelan population — depriving employees of the calorie intake needed to undertake hours of manual labor. Weakened employees frequently request part-time shifts or medical leave, says one source, which PDV begrudgingly grants.

Blackouts are also an everyday occurrence, leaving equipment without power and forcing crews to work intermittently. Even when there is electricity, facilities used to monitor operations often have no air conditioning, leaving personnel at the mercy of Venezuela’s tropical climate — one source describes a control facility where the temperature inside routinely hits 40°C (104°F), making anything resembling normal productivity all but impossible.

In scenes reminiscent of the “Mad Max” film series set in a dystopian future in which armed factions feud over oil, employees also risk violence merely by showing up for work. Several sources spoke of a lack of trucks for transport, forcing workers to bring their own vehicles to the job site and leaving them vulnerable to carjackings.

“The lack of security in the areas around the wells is out of control,” says one source, noting armed gangs roam the fields, stripping anything of value from equipment and personnel. Indeed, wiring and electronics are often stolen off rigs, their copper to be scrapped for cash, while PDV personnel are routinely robbed of their belongings.

Workers say they frequently complain to PDV about security, with strikes over those issues as well as general working conditions commonplace, but the company does nothing “concrete” to address it. PDV has not responded to Energy Intelligence attempts to contact it for comment either on the day-to-day conditions facing its workers, or the allegations of graft and corruption.

While there is usually a Venezuelan National Guard unit stationed at oil installations, their presence seemingly does not improve the situation. Some workers suggest it may even be part of the problem.

When thefts and assaults occur, provided employees have not been robbed of their cell phones, workers say calling the authorities for help from out in the fields’ vast, wide-open spaces is a lost cause.

“Even if you did call the police,” one source says, “when they show up, they might rob you, too.

 Anthony Venezia is a reporter with Energy Intelligence based in New York. This article is based on news stories that have previously appeared in Energy Intelligence’s publication Oil Daily.

***

Venezuela’s Energy Sectors Remain Attractive, Unattractive

(Energy Analytics Institute, Special from Pietro D. Pitts, 28.May.2018) — Venezuela’s upstream, downstream and midstream sectors remain attractive, yet unattractive to investors.

Why the contradiction?

The three sectors remain highly attractive due to the fact that Venezuela — the country with the world’s largest crude oil reserve base and the eighth largest natural gas reserve base — is arguably one of the most attractive geological locations in the world. Petroleum reservoirs here contain light and medium oil deposits, while the Hugo Chavez Orinoco Heavy Oil Belt, also known as the Faja, contains the largest accumulation of heavy and extra-heavy crude oil (EHCO) in the world. From the prolific Lake Maracaibo in the west to the massive Faja in the east, the opportunity set is second to none. And that’s excluding other natural resources from iron ore to gold that makes this place that much more attractive.

However, above surface issues continue to ruin the energy party due to continued political, economic and financial turmoil as well as an ongoing humanitarian crisis. A look at just some of the micro issues of these crises, in no specific order, including corruption, price and currency controls, five-digit inflation, homicide rates among the highest in the world, kidnappings of foreigners and embassy employees, worthless currency, the Petro, a brain-drain of talent, a FDI drought, Nicolas Maduro, ongoing nationalization threats, gas deficits, black and brown outages, refinery output trending towards nothing, oil production in steady decline, service providers payment backlog, political appointees at PDVSA, drug trafficking, and mismanagement of resources, continue to prove Venezuela is not for the light of heart investors.

Taking these issues, among others, coupled with recent detentions of executives from companies from Houston-based Citgo Petroleum to PDVSA to California-based Chevron Corporation only serve as evidence to the still complicated operating environment that exists in this OPEC nation of around 30 million citizens.

Nowadays, political issues above ground continue to dictate what goes on below ground, even if indirectly. When has that ever been otherwise in Venezuela? There’s no doubt Venezuela — or if you prefer, Cuba with petroleum and the Russians (in contrast or comparison to Cuba and the Soviets in the past) — will remain a country to watch for petroleum investors for many years to come.
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PDVSA Ex-President Luis Giusti Says Co. Bankrupt

(Energy Analytics Institute, Jared Yamin, 14.May.2018) – Venezuela’s state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) is bankrupt, at least that what its former president Luis Giusti thinks.

“If you look at the signs … they all point to a company that is bankrupt,” said Giusti during a televised interview on the Bayly show on 27 April 2018 with host Jamie Bayly.

Giusti initiated his career at Shell Corporation in Venezuela. He later worked at Maraven, S.A., a PDVSA operating affiliate. In 1994, Giusti was named chairman and CEO of PDVSA, positions he maintained until March of 1999, according to data posted to the website of the Center for Strategy & International Studies (CSIS), an organization where Giusti served as a senior advisor directly after departing PDVSA in 1999.

At the helm of PDVSA, Giusti oversaw major reforms to the Venezuelan petroleum sector including opening the sector to private participation, which attracted foreign direct investments (FDI) between 1995-2004 estimated at around $30 billion.

An engineer by profession, Giusti graduated from the University of Zulia in 1966, and received a M.S. in petroleum engineering from the University of Tulsa in 1971.

What follows are short extracts from the interview:

BAYLY: Why has Venezuela sent so much oil to the U.S. over the years?

GIUSTI: A lot of Venezuela barrels always went to the U.S. for a reason that is clear and precise, and that is due to the decisions made by many refineries along the Gulf Coast to invest in deep conversion capacity and to buy cheaper raw material.

Of the seven refineries in Venezuela only one is operating and the reason is simple and much more than efficiency losses and installation deteriorations. They’re simply not operating because there is no petroleum in Venezuela to process. (See Note 1)

BAYLY: If the US asked you what it could do to assist Venezuela such as to cease imports of Venezuelan crude oil or cease exports of U.S. gasoline to Venezuela, what would you recommend?

GIUSTI: It’s a bit difficult because you need to surmise the crises the citizens are living right now and take into consideration whether such a measure could turn everything around to achieve a change in a reasonable time in Venezuela. I would say that is the main concern.

BAYLY: How much money has been stolen from PDVSA?

GIUSTI: Venezuela and PDVSA are in the situation they are now due to a mismanagement of funds, without even talking about corruption.

After ten years of discretional uses of resources under the mandate of Chavez, we know that much of the funds went to personal accounts. Over a good 10-year period of Chavismo the amount that has been stolen could easily surpass $100 billion.

BAYLY: Is PDVSA bankrupt?

GIUSTI: Since PDVSA is a company of the state, it will never declare in bankruptcy. But, if you look at signs such as: not being able to pay bond returns, the Chinese’s unwillingness to lend more money, declining production levels, and salaries around $5 per month, among others signs, they all point to a company that is bankrupt.

BAYLY: What about the fact that is now run by military personnel?

GIUSTI: Military personnel who could be good or bad in their profession run PDVSA, but they are military personnel that don’t know anything about the petroleum sector.

BAYLY: How does Venezuela exit this disaster?

GIUSTI: It’s a hard question to answer but we are in the presence of a binary decision. There will not be talks about our understandings, or that we will team up. The scenario comes down to the persons in power leaving or there’s no way to resolve this.

Editor’s Note 1: The PDVSA refineries located in Venezuela include: Amuay (645 Mb/d), Cardon (310 Mb/d), Puerto La Cruz (187 Mb/d), El Palito (140 Mb/d), Bajo Grande (16 Mb/d) and San Roque (5 Mb/d), according to PDVSA data.
***

Conoco Authorized to Seize $636 Mln in PDVSA Assets

(Reuters, 13.May.2018) – A Curacao court has authorized ConocoPhillips to seize about $636 million in assets belonging to Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA due to the 2007 nationalization of the U.S. oil major’s projects in Venezuela.

The legal action was the latest in the Caribbean to enforce a $2 billion arbitration award by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) over the nationalization.

The court decision, first reported by Caribbean media outlet Antilliaans Dagblad on Saturday, says Curacao can attach “oil or oil products on ships and on bank deposits.”

Conoco and PDVSA did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the decision, which was seen by Reuters and dated May 4.

Conoco earlier this month moved to temporarily seize PDVSA’s assets on Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao and St. Eustatius. That threw Venezuela’s oil export chain into a tailspin just as Venezuela’s crude production has crumbled to a more than 30-year low due to underinvestment, theft, a brain drain and mismanagement.

Reuters reported on Friday that PDVSA was preparing to shut down the 335,000 barrel-per-day Isla refinery it operates in Curacao amid threats by Conoco to seize cargoes sent to resupply the facility.

PDVSA is also seeking ways to sidestep legal orders to hand over assets. The Venezuelan firm has transferred custody over the fuel produced at the Isla refinery to the Curacao government, the owner of the facility, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter.

PDVSA transferred ownership of crude to be refined at Isla to its U.S. unit, Citgo Petroleum, one of the sources said.

For the time being, PDVSA has suspended all oil storage and shipping from its Caribbean facilities and concentrated most shipping in its main crude terminal of Jose, which is suffering from a backlog.
***

Citgo Without CEO After Martinez Leaves

(Energy Analytics Institute, Piero Stewart, 17.Feb.2017) – Citgo Petroleum Corporation has yet to the report on a possible replacement to head the company after its CEO and President Nelson Martinez was appointed as Venezuela’s Oil Minister by the country’s President Nicolas Maduro.

The appointment leaves Citgo, the Houston-based refining arm of PDVSA, leaderless amid approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline which intends to send more Canadian oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast where Citgo has a large presence.

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Maduro Names Citgo President as Venezuela’s Oil Minister

(Energy Analytics Institute, Aaron Simonsky, 20.Jan.2017) – Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro announced the appointment of Nelson Martínez, the actual president of Citgo Petroleum Corporation, as the country’s new petroleum minister. Martínez replaces outgoing Petroleum Minister Eulogio Del Pino.

“Our friend Eulogio Del Pino remains in front of PDVSA,” reported state oil company PDVSA in an official Twitter post, citing Maduro. PDVSA, as the Caracas-based company is known, also reported Maduro as saying they “we’re going to restructure the industry,” without providing details and referring to the troubled oil sector of the member country to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

Houston-based Citgo is capable of refining 749,000 barrels per day of crude at refineries in the United States of America located in Texas, Illinois and Louisiana. Citgo markets more than 600 different types of lubricants and sells motor fuels through more than 5,300 independently owned, branded retail outlets, according to data on the company’s website.

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Mange Infested Dog Roams PDVSA’s Paraguana Refining Complex

Amuay refinery in Venezuela. Source: Pietro D. Pitts

(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.

FINANCIAL IMPACT

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.

REFINING CAPACITY

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.

CRP REALITIES

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.

REPLACEMENT PARTS

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.

MULTIPLIER EFFECT

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).’

DISMAL FUTURE

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.
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(Editing by Peter Wilson)

Q&A with Tudor Pickering’s David Pursell

(Energy Analytics Institute, Pietro D. Pitts, 18.Sep.2013) – Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. LLC Managing Director David Pursell spoke with Energy Analytics Institute in a brief interview from Dallas, Texas.

What follows are excerpts from the brief interview.

EAI: Are PDVSA’s CITGO assets along the US Gulf Coast strategic?

Pursell: They are strategic because they’re high complexity refineries that can handle the heavy Venezuelan crude grade. Plus, the products they make are going into the U.S., which is the most important refined product market in the world.

EAI: Could PDVSA’s CITGO assets be used as compensation if PDVSA were ordered to pay large lawsuit damages?

Pursell: You could probably take those assets in lieu of payment if ultimately there is a large damage award and the Venezuelans say they’re not going to pay you. The question is who’s going to buy those? If you buy cheap from Venezuela and a court later says we’re going to take them from you. Does this scare away a buyer?

EAI: Will Canadian crudes compete with Venezuelan crudes if the Keystone Pipeline is eventually built?

Pursell: Canadian crude will definitely compete with Venezuelan crude, as both are going to U.S. Gulf Coast.

EAI: How do you view PDVSA today?

Pursell: Venezuela before Chavez had three operating companies that were very good, they were clearly top quartile, Chavez came in, meshed them together and gutted technical expertise for political reasons and now PDVSA is a terrible company. He basically took PDVSA and made it Pemex, inept and not very good.

Editor’s Note:

Pursell holds a Masters in Petroleum Engineering. He has worked on a number of technical petroleum engineering consulting projects in Venezuela.

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PDVSA President Comments on Citgo

(Energy Analytics Institute, Ian Silverman, 25.Aug.2013) – During a trip with reporters in Guiria, PDVSA President Rafael Ramirez commented about the company’s CITGO Corporation refineries in the USA:

“PDVSA’s USA refining circuit has certain problems due to its geographic distribution and the fact that they receive little Venezuelan crudes.”

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Q&A with Oil Outlook President Carl Larry

(Energy Analytics Institute, Pietro D. Pitts, 9.Aug.2013) – Oil Outlook President Carl Larry spoke with Energy Analytics Institute in a brief interview from Houston, Texas.

What follows are excerpts from the brief interview.

EAI: Are US refiners benefiting from PDVSA’s refinery problems in Venezuela?

Larry: We have seen production in the US in the last year picking up and we are seeing a lot of refinery runs, which have lifted exports which are at a record high.

Because of gasoline usage that we have seen in Venezuela, it has created an opportunity for US Gulf Coast refineries to pick up the slack to really push out more exports.

Additionally, we see a lot of the US Gulf Coast refineries bringing in a lot of heavy and medium crudes from either Venezuela or Saudi Arabia. The focus has shifted from bringing in lighter sweets, which we have done historically, to bringing in more medium to heavy grades (heavier sour grades). Further, we are seeing more being pulled out of Cushing and down into now the Gulf Coast.

There is an abundance of light sweet because of the shale programs, whether Eagle Ford in Texas or Bakken, and we are seeing a lot of that get pushed to the East Coast and the Mid-West.

We have seen a desperate need for sours and heavies ever since 2004-2005 when the refineries in the Gulf Coast were switching their slates to a heavier grade because of the cost differences.

Now we are experiencing a situation where it is cheaper to bring in light sweet in but the refineries are now geared up to bring in medium to heavy. We are seeing a lot more production but because of that we are seeing more pressure on the heavier sour grades.

Exports are key here. The longer we can keep those refineries up and running, it’s a good thing for the US refining system but at end of the day it is all about global demand and not so much US demand.

EAI: Could PDVSA be at a point whereby it is ready to divest of its CITGO Corp. refining operations in the US?

Larry: Venezuela is facing the same issues as a refiner as Saudi Arabia. There is not this demand in the US for product anymore and definitely not crude, so like Saudi Arabia there is race to get to Asia and especially China and get in front of them and sign longer term deals. So, the longer Venezuela deals with the US and the up and down demand here, the more time they are losing with bigger customers.

I can see why they would want to strengthen those ties before someone else stepped in. I could see PDVSA wanting to exit the US since there is not

really a big need here anymore for refineries or crude for that matter.

The focus for PDVSA and Venezuela should be the up and coming countries that will be demanding more oil, probably China and maybe Japan as well.

EAI: What companies would you put on a short list as being interested in the CITGO refineries?

Larry: I think ExxonMobil is a name that will come to the forefront, but Chevron Corp. might be another one that might be looking to expand. With significant exposure in Latin America, the refineries could be a natural fit for Chevron if there is an opportunity to expand.

EAI: Do you see a market for PDVSA’s Caribbean refineries?

Larry: It all depends on global demand. The Caribbean refineries are looking for a lot more global demand to make their margins profitable. The US is no longer relying on the Caribbean to give it the product, the demand is now going in the opposite direction. So, PDVSA’s refineries and others in the Caribbean become more global macro-sensitive than they have been in the past.

Editor’s Note:

PDVSA’s 100% controlled US subsidiary CITGO Corp. owns outright three refineries with combined processing capacity of 749,000 b/d. PDVSA also has a 50% interest in two additional refineries with a combined processing capacity of 679,000 b/d, according to PDVSA’s 2012 annual report.

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Journalist Round Table with Rafael Ramirez

(Energy Analytics Institute, Piero Stewart, 31.Jul.2013) – PDVSA President Rafael Ramirez held a small round table with journalist in Caracas, Venezuela.

What follows are excerpts from the discussion.

Rafael Ramirez on the petroleum sector and the current government administration under Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro:

Rafael Ramirez: We have firmly established our political strategy related to the oil sector.

We are currently entering a stage of production expansion and will concentrate all of our work and energies on reaching our goals and increasing production capacity in Venezuela.

If we look back, we received the petroleum sector (in late 1999) during a phase of privatization in the downstream, midstream, and upstream sectors, especially PDVSA.

But Venezuela has entered a new expansion stage of petroleum sector policies and PDVSA is entering into the Expansion Phase of the Faja development.

In terms of the sabotage that our oil industry has seen, we continue to feel the effects of these actions and damage mostly in Western Venezuela where we have experienced a drastic drop in production.

After the oil sector strike in 2002-2003, we established our petroleum sector plan. We oversaw the migration of operating contracts (of 33 companies with contracts we saw 31 of the companies migrate to the new contracts without problems, only ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips decided to exit the migration process and eventually exit Venezuela altogether). We also oversaw changes and modifications to laws, fiscal changes such as reestablishing royalties and taxes.

The year 2010 marked the beginning of the new expansion stage for the Venezuelan oil sector. From 2004-2010 we worked on nationalization, migration process to new contracts, and PDVSA regaining control of the oil sector by increasing its participation from an average 49% in JVs to a minimum of 60%. We are now in the stage of increasing the production of oil.

In all, we spent ten years (2000-2010) recuperating PDVSA, under the watch of late-President Hugo Chavez Frias.

Ramirez: We are employing many engineers from public schools here in Venezuela for various jobs, including rig operations.

On the petroleum sector expansion process:

Ramirez: In 2013, we have been concentrating our efforts on recuperating production capacity of 4 MMb/d by year end 2014 and 6 MMb/d by year end 2019 (of which 4 MMb/d will come from the Faja). For this to happen, it is fundamental that we move two elements: development of the Faja and development of an industrial base. [See also information on industrial meetings with private sectors across the country].

We need to construct a production capacity of 3 MMb/d in the Faja. This runs parallel with work we have been conducting in the Faja related to the industrial meetings with the private sector.

The government is working hard with the private sector for the second phase of the Faja development. Hence the Six National Productive Meetings we had to gauge interest in the private sector to participate in projects with the government and PDVSA.

We are working with private (transnationals) companies as well as the Venezuelan Hydrocarbon Association or AVHI but I must reiterate: “The companies that do not want to help PDVSA increase its production capacity can simply leave the country.”

We have received positive feedback from CNPC and Chevron and we are awaiting response from other companies such as Repsol, among others, in terms of new financing deals related to petroleum sector projects.

We plan to create investment funds for all the Faja JVs whereby “the Venezuelan citizens” will participate.

The government will create four investment districts in the Faja. In Sep.2013 the government will announce plans and create development schemes, special fiscal schemes for the four districts that are located in each of the four Faja blocks.

Ciudad Bolivar will be the main city that Venezuela will use for the development of the Faja since it already has an airport and universities.

Development of the Faja will be the most important prospect for Venezuela in this Century.

The government is working with private companies regarding funding and the use of money solely to increase production.

The government realizes that a number of private companies that have converted to JVs have had problems increasing production (operating costs around $12/bbl, including G&A). Regardless, the government wants the companies to maintain operations in Venezuela and increase production. However, private companies that cannot maintain these operating costs should be operated by PDVSA. We are looking to drastically reduce overhead costs. Again, we don’t want small operators to leave, but we want them to merge their operations to reduce overhead so that they can focus on increasing production.

We are starting a push for reduction of costs and more efficiency in our production. In the Western region of the country we have had a lot of success implementing this strategy and we have stopped the production declines in the region.

The government wants companies in Zulia in Falcon state to be more efficient and is trying to help them reduce their overhead.

On the Faja reservoir spanning into Colombia:

Ramirez: The Faja does not extend to Colombia, only to Guarico state in Venezuela in its most western extension. There are individuals in Colombia that are trying to convince investors that Colombia shares the same geology as Venezuela, which is not true. Pacific Rubiales has sold a lot of stock selling this story to investors. The Faja formation in Venezuela is different than the one in Colombia.

On the Chinese Fund and other financing issues:

Ramirez: Close to 94% of foreign income that Venezuela generates comes from the petroleum sector.

Venezuela will sign a $5 bln funding (Fondo Chino or Chinese Fund) in Sep.2013 in the presence of President Nicolas Maduro in China.

The amount of barrels that are sent to China to repay loans varies each month due to changes in oil prices. When oil prices are high, the barrels that need to be sent to China decline, while any excesses are returned to PDVSA.

We sold $21.9 bln to the Venezuelan Central Bank or BCV during 2001-Jun.2013. In 2013, we plan to sell $47 bln to the BCV.

In 2012, PDVSA paid down debt by about $4 bln, this figure stood at $34.4 bln at YE:12

Money on our Balance Sheet as of June 30, 2013 ($12 bln) includes investments (commercial credit) from Rosneft, CNPC, Gazprom, Chevron. Money from new JVs could be used in the SICAD weekly auctions when the companies need access to Bolivars. This will also reduce the companies’ needs to participate in illegal activities to obtain Bolivars.

PDVSA will not issue more debt in USA dollars but instead in Bolivars as it is easier to pay back this debt in the local market than in dollars.

On Venezuelan windfall tax scheme:

Ramirez: The following table (See Table 1) lays out Venezuela’s windfall tax scheme.

Table 1: Venezuela windfall tax payment to Fonden

Price of oil ——- Payment % to FONDEN

$80/bbl ——— 20%

$80-$100/bbl —- 80% of the difference

$100-$110/bbl —- 90% of the difference

>$110/bbl ——– 95% of the difference

Source: PDVSA

FONDEN is a national development fund which is similar to a fund that is run by the Norwegians. “I don’t see anybody criticizing the Norwegians,” but this government is overly criticized.

On oil exports, shale developments worldwide and other issues:

Ramirez: PDVSA is an operational company. We are constantly balancing things out. We have debts but we have revenues. We have financing but we have capitalization.

Increases in interest rates under the Petrocaribe initiative were not called for by PDVSA. The conditions remain unchanged.

Venezuelan oil exports are down due to increased use of diesel in the domestic market to generate electricity.

Shale oil developments do not affect Venezuela. We are not worried about shale oil developments going on worldwide. However, most of the shale resources in Venezuela are located in Maracaibo Lake area where they amount to about 13,000-19,000 MMbbls.

We are evaluating to what depths we have shale in the Urdaneta field. Venezuela has shale resources in Lake Maracaibo which are four times as much as those claimed by Colombia. We need to drive to deeper horizons where there are larger concentrations of oil. Although we have shale resources in Falcon state we will continue to look for convention oil and gas. There is tremendous liquids potential offshore Falcon state.

A $100/bbl oil price does not permit the development of shale oil. So we need a good oil price and $100/bbl is a good price, not just for Venezuela.

Oil price sensitivity: For each $1/bbl decline/rise in oil prices, Venezuela losses/gains $700 mln per year in revenues.

As a result of the Perla 3x offshore gas discovery which also unveiled large condensate potential, we have decided to drill offshore Falcon state in search of additional condensate potential.

Oil production at the Sinovensa JV is around 140,000 b/d but we expect this production to reach 165,300 b/d by year end 2013 and ultimately 330,000 b/d.

During 1992-1999, Venezuela’s 4th Republic reported fiscal revenues of just $23.5 bln, while the Revolutionary Government (under former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and now President Nicolas Maduro) has reported fiscal revenues of $448.8 bln during 2000-Aug.2013 (as of 1.Aug.2013), of which $310.3 bln came from changes in new laws (i.e. increasing taxes and royalties and increasing PDVSA’s participation in oil projects).

Venezuela’s oil production declines on average 700,000 b/d a year or around 20-25% per year. However, Venezuela adds an average 700,000 b/d of production to make up for the short fall and maintain production around 3,000 Mb/d.

In the Faja the production declines are not as pronounced since it is a newly developed area, but in Zulia state in Lake Maracaibo the declines are more pronounced.

On gasoline issues:

Ramirez: The government is working to install an automatic chip system and even GPS systems in Tachira state as there are reported cases of cars in Colombia with Venezuelan license plates that are crossing the Colombian/Venezuelan border each day to buy cheap gasoline in Venezuela to later sell it in Colombia.

The government is looking to implement the export of Venezuelan gasoline to Colombia to reduce the demand for gasoline in Colombia.

On refineries:

Ramirez: El Palito refinery will receive heavy oil from the Faja in the future while the Puerto la Cruz refinery will also process oil from the Faja. We will continue to use light oils for mixtures or for export.

Changes/upgrades at existing refineries are being done to increase the heavy oil processing capacity.

Plans to build three new refineries in Venezuela have not changed.

The government has proposed that companies convert upgraders into refineries or upgrade the oils to 42 degrees API so that it can be exported or mixed with other oils and thus avoiding potential bottlenecks in Venezuela.

Our agreements with Eni are to build a refinery and not an upgrader. The majority of the finished products from this refinery will be diesel with specifications established for European markets. The 300,000 b/d capacity refinery with Eni is a move by the Italian company to pay lower taxes.

On Ecuador:

Ramirez: PDVSA has reduced its interest in Ecuador’s Pacific Coast Refinery to 19% from 49% to allow entrance of CNPC with a 30% interest. Petroecuador will continue to hold a 51% interest in the project. Nonetheless, PDVSA still plans to send 100,000 b/d to the refinery for processing.

On the USA and potential divestment of CITGO refineries:

Ramirez: The US market has a large processing capacity for heavy oils. In regards to divesting of our interest in CITGO; it is not viable to sell individual refineries in the USA. It would only be interesting if they (the CITGO refineries) could be sold as a packaged deal.

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