Venezuela Doubles Down on Chinese Money to Reverse Crisis

(AP, 20.Sep.2018) — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Tuesday that new investments from China will help his country dramatically boost its oil production, doubling down on financing from the Asian nation to turn around its crashing economy.

Already a major economic partner, China has agreed to invest US$5 billion more in Venezuela, Maduro said following a recent trip to Beijing, adding that the money would help it nearly double its oil exports to China.

“We are taking the first steps into a new economic era,” he said. “We are on track to have a new economy, and the agreements with China will strengthen it.”

A once-wealthy oil nation, Venezuela is gripped by a historic crisis deeper than the Great Depression in the United States. Venezuelans struggle to afford scarce food and medicine, many going abroad in search of a better life.

Venezuela’s inflation this year could top one million per cent, economists predict.

After two decades of socialist rule and mismanagement, Venezuela’s oil production of 1.2 million barrels a day is a third of what it was two decades ago before the late President Hugo Chavez launched the socialist revolution.

Maduro says that under the deal, Venezuela will increase production and the daily export of oil to China to one million barrels a day.

However, China is taking a strong role in its new agreements. Over the last decade, China has given Venezuela US$65 billion in loans, cash and investment. Venezuela owes more than US$20 billion.

FINALISING OIL PLANS

The head of the National Petroleum Corporation of China will soon travel to Venezuela to finalise plans on increasing oil exports.

Russ Dallen, a Miami-based partner at brokerage Caracas Capital Markets, said the influx of money appears to be investments China will control.

“The Chinese are reluctant to throw good money after bad,” Dallen said. “They do want to get paid back. The only way they can get paid back is to get Venezuela’s production back up.”

Venezuela also agreed to sell 9.9 per cent of shares of the joint venture Sinovensa, giving a Chinese oil company a 49 per cent stake. The sale will expand exploitation of gas in Venezuela, the president said.

Maduro also recently launched sweeping economic reforms aimed at rescuing the economy that include a creating new currency, boosting the minimum wage more than 3,000 per cent, and raising taxes.

Economist Asdrubal Oliveros of Caracas-based firm Econalitica said he doubts that Venezuela can reach the aggressive goal to boost oil exports to China to one million barrels a day, given problems faced by the state corporation PDVSA.

“Increased production I see as quite limited,” Oliveros said. “The Chinese companies alone have neither the muscle nor the size to prop up production.”

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PDVSA to Reopen Damaged Port Dock by Month’s End -Documents

(Reuters, Marianna Parraga, 12.Sep.2018) — PDVSA expects to reopen the south dock of Venezuela’s main oil port Jose by the end of September, easing strains on crude exports delayed due to a tanker collision last month, according to internal trade documents from the state-run oil firm seen by Reuters.

Last week, PDVSA began diverting tankers to Puerto la Cruz for loading, but the South American country’s crude exports have remained slow in recent weeks as few customers have accepted the 500,000-barrel-per-cargo maximum neighboring terminals can handle.

Besides Puerto la Cruz, tankers waiting to load a total 2.65 million barrels of Venezuelan upgraded and diluted crudes also plan to be serviced this month by two monobuoys at Jose, including cargoes scheduled for U.S.-based Chevron Corp and Russia’s Rosneft, the documents showed.

But a 1-million-barrel cargo of diluted crude oil (DCO) scheduled to be lifted by Rosneft at Jose between late September and early October was cancelled, according to the documents.

Rosneft and PDVSA in April agreed to a “remediation plan” to refinance an oil-for-loan agreement after delays to deliver cargoes of Venezuelan crude on time. DCO shipments scheduled since then belong to that plan.

PDVSA did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

At least three other 500,000-barrel cargoes for Valero Energy and PDVSA’s U.S. refining unit Citgo Petroleum plan to be loaded at Jose’s available docks and monobuoys in the coming days, after delays.

Valero also would pick up two additional 600,000-barrel cargoes of Morichal crude after a maintenance project that would halt the 150,000-barrel-per-day Petromonagas crude upgrader in August was again postponed, allowing more production.

PDVSA and its joint ventures exported 1.292 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude last month, a 7.7 percent decline versus July, according to Thomson Reuters trade flows data.

The country’s oil output fell again in August to 1.448 million bpd, according to numbers reported by OPEC on Wednesday. Venezuela’s accumulated annual production this year is 1.544 million bpd, the lowest since 1950. (Reporting by Marianna Parraga in Mexico City Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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Venezuela Oil Sales to US Fell in August

(Reuters, 4.Sep.2018) — Venezuela’s crude sales to the United States fell in August for the second month in a row as exports of two of the South American country’s main grades dropped following port interruptions by a tanker collision, according to Thomson Reuters Trade Flows data.

Venezuela’s state-run oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., known as PDVSA, and its joint ventures last month exported an average of 468,300 barrels per day (bpd) of crude in 30 cargoes to their customers in the United States, the data show. The total was the third smallest monthly figure this year.

PDVSA’s oil shipments have been affected in recent weeks by export limitations at the country’s main oil port, Jose, after a minor tanker collision forced the state-run firm to halt operations at one of its three berths.

The Jose dock problem came as the country was attempting to reverse a series of blows to oil exports, including declining output, a severe lack of investment in its energy infrastructure and asset seizure attempts by creditors.

PDVSA last week started a contingency plan for diverting tankers waiting at Jose to load to the nearby terminal of Puerto la Cruz. It has not said for how long Jose’s loadings would be affected.

The state-run company last month exported to the United States a 500,000-barrel cargo of Merey crude and three 500,000-barrel cargoes of Zuata crude, two of the OPEC-nation’s main grades for exports. Both come from the Orinoco Belt, Venezuela’s largest oil producing region.

Crude upgraders at the Orinoco, essential for turning Venezuela’s extra heavy oil into exportable grades, have been working intermittently in recent months due to planned maintenance and outages, limiting volumes available for export.

U.S. refining firm Valero Energy was the largest receiver of Venezuelan crude last month with 153,000 bpd, followed by PDVSA’s unit Citgo Petroleum and Chevron Corp , according to the data.

Shipments to spot customers in the United States continued falling to some 40,000 bpd in August, the second smallest monthly figure so far this year.

(Reporting by Marianna Parraga; Editing by Richard Chang)

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PDVSA Inks $430 Mln Deal in Effort to Boost Oil Output

(S&P Global, Mery Mogollon, 30.Aug.2018) — State-owned Venezuelan oil company PDVSA signed a $430 million service agreement with seven companies to boost its oil production by 641,000 b/d, company president Manuel Quevedo said in a statement Wednesday.

The companies on the other side of deal are: Well Services Cavallino, Petro Karina, Helios Petroleum Services, Shandong Kerui Group, Rinaca Centauro Karina Consortium, Oil Consortium Tomoporo and Venenca. The companies will help boost output from wells in the Arecuna, Sanvi Guere, Orocual, Dacion, Jusepin, Franquera-Tomoporo and Carito-Pirital fields, the statement said.

According to the statement, current production at the fields is 384,000 b/d.

“We have the opportunity to increase oil production at these fields by 641,000 b/d,” said Quevedo.

“We will provide legal security, investment facilities and the production of each barrel of crude will be recognized a fair rate,” Quevedo added.

Venezuela holds the world’s largest crude reserves, but has seen its oil industry crumble amid mismanagement, corruption and a lack of investment.

Venezuela’s crude output fell to 1.2 million b/d in July, according to the latest S&P Global Platts OPEC production survey.

In 2007, the Venezuelan government expropriated assets from international companies that operated light, medium, heavy and extra-heavy crude fields under contracts signed in the 1990s.

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Venezuelan Oil Port Working Partially After Collision

(Reuters, Marianna Parraga, 28.Aug.2018) — Venezuela’s main oil port of Jose is operating partially following a weekend tanker collision that halted one of its three docks, curtailing state-run PDVSA’s ability to export upgraded crude and receive imported diluents, three sources with knowledge of the incident said on Tuesday.

PDVSA has been struggling this year to deliver exports on time to most customers due to falling oil output, legal actions by creditors aimed at seizing overseas assets and U.S. sanctions. In July, the country’s crude production fell to its lowest level in over 60 years.

Crude exports from Jose were running earlier this year at about 900,000 barrels per day (bpd), according to Thomson Reuters data. Some 60,000 bpd of naphtha imports, which is used to dilute Venezuela’s extraheavy crude for export, also are received at the terminal.

The collision shut the South dock, one of Jose Offshore Platform’s three oil berths – East, West and South – and two monobuoy systems, used to ship crude from the Orinoco Belt, Venezuela’s main producing region, and to discharge imported diluents. The South dock was refurbished in 2016.

“Jose’s East and West docks are totally busy. Each VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier) takes up to five days to load. There is not extra capacity for discharging naphtha imports and more upgraded crude exports there,” one of the sources said.

PDVSA did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

PDVSA’s upgraded crude, produced at four upgraders that convert Venezuela’s extraheavy oil into lighter grades, is mainly exported to the United States, a market that has seen a 26-percent decline in imports of Venezuelan crude this year, according to Thomson Reuters Trade Flows figures.

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Aruba’s San Nicolás Refinery to Take Faja Oil

(Energy Analytics Institute, Piero Stewart, 25.Aug.2018) — Valero’s old Aruba refinery will be revitalized as an upgrader.

PDVSA announced the San Nicolás Refinery located in Aruba will be converted into an upgrader in order to process extra-heavy oil from Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez Orinoco Heavy Oil Belt, also known as the Faja.

Citgo Aruba Refinery. Source: PDVSA

The upgrader will have capacity to process 200,000 barrels per day, reported PDVSA in an official statement.

Venezuela — the country with the world’s largest oil reserves, and reeling in political, economic and humanitarian crises and suffering from the world’s highest inflation – continues to struggle to stop oil production declines. The country’s refineries and upgraders continue to suffer from a lack of investment, among other issues that continue to affect the OPEC country’s oil patch.

No further financial details related to refinery conversion were revealed by PDVSA.

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PDVSA and ConocoPhillips Reach New, Positive Settlement

(Citgo, 21.Aug.2018) — As officially reported by Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) and ConocoPhillips, the two companies recently reached a settlement agreement resulting from the nationalization of the Hamaca and Petrozuata projects in 2007.

As background, ConocoPhillips initiated arbitration before the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), demanding that PDVSA pay approximately $20 billion in return for its assets. This amount was based on the theory that PDVSA should have unlimited liability for the actions of the country. However, on April 24, 2018 the ICC ruled that PDVSA should pay only $1.87 billion, an amount based on the previous association agreements between the two companies.

As a result of the settlement, ConocoPhillips has agreed to suspend its legal enforcement actions of the ICC award, including in the Dutch Caribbean. At the same time, PDVSA will pay approximately 25 percent of the award in the short term and the remaining balance in quarterly installments over the next 4.5 years.

PDVSA confirmed in a statement that it will continue serving both the international and domestic markets. Furthermore, the company affirmed that this agreement reached with ConocoPhillips demonstrates, once again, the firm will of PDVSA to reach commercial solutions with its creditors while continuing to strengthen itself and its commercial operations.

CITGO also continues serving its customers in the United States, and the resolution of this matter helps to ensure the stability in the overall CITGO commercial supply chain. As a leading refining and marketing company, with strong financial and operational performance, CITGO will continue producing and selling quality products and is well positioned for the future.

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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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PdV, Joint Ventures Miss Oil Targets

(Argus, 9.Aug.2018) – Venezuela’s state-owned PdV and its joint ventures fell short of officially targeted crude production by more than 125,000 b/d in July, according to an internal PdV upstream report obtained by Argus.

The steepest shortfalls were registered in the Orinoco heavy oil belt — long touted by the Opec country as the driver of ambitious growth plans — and PdV’s western division around Lake Maracaibo.

The monthly report indicates that July production averaged 1,526,600 b/d, compared with a target of 1,651,700 b/d, with operations by PdV and its joint ventures both explicitly missing their targets.

The report data does not include annual or monthly comparisons. Venezuela’s official June production, according to Opec’s latest Monthly Oil Market Report, was 1.531mn b/d. The average of secondary sources, including Argus, was 1.340mn b/d.

PdV officials tell Argus that the production data in the monthly internal report are systematically inflated, mainly by the company’s eastern and western divisions. “They play with the storage tanks and what they report is not reality,” one senior executive says. Actual July national production was around 1.25mn b/d, the officials say.

Despite its shortcomings, the report sheds light on field-by-field and divisional performance trends, acknowledging that neither PdV nor its joint ventures with foreign companies has been able to check Venezuela’s precipitous decline in output. Among the factors fueling the trend are scant maintenance, reservoir mismanagement, skilled labor flight and a lack of critical naphtha and light crude for transport and blending.

The Orinoco oil belt produced 843,200 b/d of crude in July, compared with a targeted 908,200 b/d, the report indicates. Of the belt’s four producing blocks, Carabobo accounted for 375,000 b/d, 23,500 b/d short of its target. PetroMonagas, a PdV joint venture with Russia’s state-controlled Rosneft, accounted for 119,700 b/d or 32pc of the block’s total reported output. That’s followed by Sinovensa, a PdV joint venture with China’s state-owned CNPC, with 91,800 b/d or 24pc.

In the Orinoco’s Junin block, July output averaged 191,800 b/d, off target by 16,500 b/d. The top producer with 71,600 b/d was PetroCedeno, in which France´s Total and Norway´s Equinor are PdV´s minority partners. The joint venture´s production missed its target by 12,200 b/d, well in excess of any other project in the block, the report indicates. PetroCedeno has an official capacity in excess of 200,000 b/d.

Other Junin block projects, including PetroMiranda with Rosneft and PetroJunin with Italy´s Eni, also missed their July goals. PetroUrica and PetroMacareo, PdV nominal joint ventures with CNPC and PetroVietnam, respectively, showed zero real and targeted output.

In the Ayacucho block, PdV´s PetroPiar joint venture with Chevron produced 123,300 b/d, off target by 12,400 b/d, the report says. The project has official capacity of 190,000 b/d.

In PdV´s eastern division, which hosts the legacy Furrial complex, July production averaged 326,300 b/d, just 9,500 b/d short of its target.

The western division, in contrast, produced 319,200 b/d, missing its target by 44,600 b/d. The shortfall came mainly from shallow-water operations in Lake Maracaibo and on its eastern coast.

The report indicates that 1,191 wells stopped producing in July, accounting for 333,200 b/d of lost output. The western division accounted for more than two-thirds of the number of deactivated wells, but the Orinoco accounted for some 80pc of the lost output, reflecting its higher well productivity.

The western division also accounted for 70pc of 1,114 well reactivations in July. These added a total of 183,300 b/d of production, mostly from the Orinoco.

PdV is reactivating the western division wells on its own and with small contractors, unrelated to the company’s vaunted plan to reactivate more than 23,000 wells nationwide, a PdV official says.

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Venezuela Is Oil Market’s Bizarro World

(S&P Global Platts, Nastassia Astrasheuskaya, 7.Aug.2018) – Venezuela’s state oil and gas company PDVSA cut its debt to Russia’s top crude producer Rosneft by $400 million in the second quarter to $3.6 billion as of the end of June, Rosneft’s second-quarter results presentation showed Tuesday.

Rosneft agreed prepayment deals for crude and products deliveries with Venezuela between 2014 and 2016, the last of which is due to expire at the end of 2020. The company gave Venezuela a total of $6.5 billion in pre-payments, a Rosneft official said earlier this year.

Venezuela’s debt to the Russian major thus shrank by $1 billion in the six months since the end-2017 figure, according to the presentation.

Rosneft reported in May that Venezuela had paid off $600 million of debt in the first quarter. The Russian company also said it reduced crude purchases from the Latin American country in the first three months of the year.

With the Venezuelan economy moving downhill and its oil industry crumbling in recent years, PDVSA told customers earlier this year it was not able to fully meet its supply requirements. Due to provide Rosneft with 222,000 b/d of diluted crude oil, or DCO, PDVSA only had 116,000 b/d available in June, a PDVSA source said earlier.

In the face of crushing debt, crumbling infrastructure, worker unrest, hyperinflation and US sanctions, Venezuelan oil output dropped by 670,000 b/d in a year to 1.24 million b/d in July, according to S&P Global Platts OPEC survey. This is the lowest level in the 30-year history of the Platts OPEC survey, except a debilitating worker strike in late 2002 and early 2003.

With economic hardship, Russia and Rosneft have provided extensive economic support to Venezuela and PDVSA in recent years.

Late last year, Russia’s finance ministry agreed to refinance Venezuela’s $3.15 billion loan, extending the payment period to 2026 and introducing more favorable conditions on servicing the loan.

Rosneft also has stakes in upstream projects in Venezuela, including five oil projects: Petromonagas, Petrovictoria, Petroperija, Boqueron and Petromiranda, which together account for around 4% of Venezuela’s overall production, according to the Russian company.

Crude reserves at the projects are estimated at over 20.5 billion mt. Late last year, Rosneft also agreed to develop two offshore gas licenses in the country.

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Former Cerro Negro Workers Still Seek Payment

(Energy Analytics Institute, Piero Stewart, 23.Jul.2018) – It has been 11 years and the 7,000 direct and indirect Venezuelan workers of US oil company Exxon Mobil still haven’t received their social benefits or other liquidations.

Those payment were assumed by the government of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez when his administration nationalized Exxon Mobil’s Cerro Negro heavy oil project located in the Hugh Chavez Orinoco Heavy Oil Belt, also known as the Faja.

“Several coworkers have died during this long time waiting while others have left the country, but we continue to demand our rights,” reported the daily newspaper El Nacional, citing Luis Vega, spokesman for those affected. In 2007, labor liabilities reached $5.2 billion, a figure that has increased due to accumulated interest, he said.

Many of the workers are from the Venezuelan states of Monagas, Sucre, Anzoátegui, Bolívar, Guárico and Delta Amacuro, said Vega.

About a month ago, Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro instructed PDVSA President Manuel Quevedo to solve the problem.

“PDVSA recognizes the debt, but doesn’t want to pay us alleging that [former PDVSA President] Rafael Ramírez stole the money,” added Vega.

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China to Invest $250 mln to Boost Venezuela’s Oil Sector

(Bloomberg, 4.Jul.2018) – Venezuela’s distressed oil sector may get some much needed financing from China, Finance Minister Simon Zerpa said after meetings with officials from China Development Bank and China National Petroleum Corporation.

China Development Bank will invest more than US$250 million to boost Venezuela oil production in the Orinoco Belt, Zerpa, who is currently in Beijing for bilateral talks, said in a ministry statement.

“We’ve received the authorisation for a direct investment of more than US$250 million from China Development Bank to increase PDVSA production, and we’re already putting together financing for a special loan that China’s government is granting Venezuela for US$5 billion for direct investments in production,” Zerpa said.

The two countries will sign an additional three or four financing deals in the coming weeks, he said.

Venezuela’s oil output averaged 2.9 million barrels a day in 2013, when President Nicolas Maduro was first elected.

In June, output dropped to around 1.36 million barrels per day, according to International Energy Agency data.

State oil company PDVSA has been struggling to send oil shipments to China after a legal order granted to ConocoPhillips froze its assets in Caribbean ports and terminals.

Maduro has vowed to boost production by 1 million additional barrels, while critics say output will plummet to 1 million barrels a day by the end of this year.

Venezuela and China officials will continue meetings on Wednesday, the ministry said in its statement. Zerpa, who has served in the post since October, was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department before his appointment.

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PetroPiar Ends Preventative Maintenance

Workers at PetroPiar JV in Venezuela. Source: PDVSA

(Energy Analytics Institute, Piero Stewart, 3.Jul.2018) – Work on the upgrader concluded four days ahead of schedule, according to Caracas-based PDVSA.

Operational activities at the upgrader included substitutions in the naphtha and light vacuum gas oil (LVGO) lines, maintenance of interchangers, internal drum replacements (Demister), and replacements related to the value 48 sealing system (Metax System), as well as the repair of atmospheric furnace tubes, announced PDVSA in an official statement.

The PetroPiar mixed company enterprise partners PDVSA, as the Venezuelan state oil company is known, and US-based Chevron Corporation.

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Venezuela’s Petropiar Upgrader Begins Restart

(Reuters, 26.Jun.2018) – Venezuela’s PDVSA and Chevron have begun to restart their 210,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) Petropiar heavy crude upgrader after a nearly month-long, repair-related shutdown and a fire, according to the state-run company and two sources close to the facility.

Venezuela’s crude upgraders, which can convert near 700,000 bpd of extra-heavy crude from the country’s Orinoco Belt into exportable grades, have been mostly out of service in recent weeks while PDVSA focused on easing a tanker backlog that has delayed exports.

The country’s oil production fell to 1.39 million bpd in May, according to secondary sources cited by OPEC, the lowest level since the 1950s. Oil is Venezuela’s main export and the decline has only served to deepen an already severe economic crisis.

Workers attempted to restart Petropiar earlier in June, but quality issues that were ultimately solved delayed the process, one of the sources said. The restart typically takes several days to be completed while the upgrader’s performance is evaluated.

A fire early on Tuesday at one of the upgrader’s furnaces left one worker injured, but had no material impact on operations, PDVSA said in a statement.

“The event was immediately controlled,” the company said in the statement, adding that crude production and upgrading were not directly affected by the fire.

If Petropiar fully restarts in the coming days, the neighboring 190,000-bpd Petrocedeno facility would be the only upgrader completely shut for maintenance while the 160,000-bpd Petro San Felix complex works intermittently, according to the sources.

But the 150,000-bpd Petromonagas, operated by PDVSA and Russia’s Rosneft, is expected to be out of service later this month due to a planned major maintenance project.

Reduced crude upgrading means PDVSA and its partners in the Orinoco Belt, the country’s largest producing region, have to mix Diluted Crude Oil (DCO) for export, but the volume of the replacement grade is typically lower.

That could help to ease a bottleneck of tankers waiting to transport oil exports. As of June 26, there were more than 75 tankers anchored off Venezuelan ports waiting to load some 24 million barrels of crude and refined products, according to Thomson Reuters vessel tracking data, near flat from earlier this month.

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PdV Restarting PetroPiar Upgrader

(Argus, 26.Jun.2018) – Venezuelan state-owned PdV is restarting its 210,000 b/d PetroPiar upgrader this week after completing month-long repairs, PdV and energy ministry officials said.

Chevron, which has a 30pc stake in Petropiar, is “working closely” with PdV to restart the facility, the PdV executive said.

Chevron regularly declines to comment on its minority-held operations in Venezuela.

PetroPiar is one of four PdV-run upgraders at the Jose industrial complex in Anzoátegui state.

Following the restart of PetroPiar, PdV is also expected to resume operations at its 160,000 b/d Petro San Felix upgrader, the two officials said. But several Petro San Felix processing units are still undergoing repairs, making a full restart unlikely until the second half of July, they added.

Petro San Felix, formerly called PetroAnzoátegui, is 100pc owned and operated by PdV.

PdV’s 200,000 b/d PetroCedeño upgrader remains shut down for major works that likely will not be completed until August, the PdV and ministry officials said. France´s Total and Norway’s Equinor hold a combined 40pc stake in PetroCedeño.

PdV’s 150,000 b/d PetroMonagas upgrader is currently operating at roughly 50pc of nameplate capacity and is scheduled for maintenance starting in July, the officials added. Russian state-controlled Rosneft owns 40pc of PetroMonagas.

The four upgraders, which have a combined synthetic crude production capacity of more than 600,000 b/d, have been mostly off line for repairs since May, when exports started backing up.

The backlog of close to 30mn bl of mostly heavy Merey crude and diluted crude oil (DCO) began after US independent ConocoPhillips imposed debt-related liens on PdV´s Dutch Caribbean assets, prompting the Venezuelan company to pull its tankers into Venezuelan waters and shift exports to an fob basis, a strategy that has so far failed to restore exports to their former rhythm. Among the operational challenges is transshipment, which PdV traditionally carried out in the islands.

ConocoPhillips is seeking to collect $2bn from PdV that it was awarded by an international arbitration tribunal in April for the 2007 expropriation of the US firm´s stakes in two of the upgraders.

The liens on PdV´s assets were partially lifted last month to allow PdV to supply fuel to the islands and start paying the debt through escrow accounts.

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PDVSA Controls Fire at PetroPiar Furnace

(Energy Analytics Institute, Piero Stewart, 26.Jun.2018) – The early morning incident occurred at the José Antonio Anzoátegui Industrial Complex (CIJAA) in Barcelona, Venezuela.

The fire occurred at the hydro processing unit furnace 14 F-001, announced PDVSA in an official statement.

The PetroPiar joint venture upgrades crude oil from the Hugo Chavez Orinoco Heavy Oil Belt, also known as the Faja.

The state oil company is looking into the causes of the fire. A PDVSA employee, Pedro Flores (38), injured during the incident, was transported to a local facility to receive medical care, the company reported.

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EIA Publishes Updated Venezuela Country Report

(EIA, 21.Jun.2018) – Venezuela holds the largest oil reserves in the world, in large part because of the heavy oil reserves in the Orinoco Oil Basin. In addition to oil reserves, Venezuela has sizeable natural gas reserves, although the development of natural gas lags significantly behind that of oil, reported the US-based Energy Information Administration (EIA) in its updated Venezuela country report posted online. However, in the wake of political and economic instability in the country, crude oil production has dramatically decreased, reaching a multi-decades low in mid-2018.

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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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Factbox: Venezuela’s Ayacucho Block 1

(Energy Analytics Institute, Jared Yamin, 14.May.2018) – Venezuela’s Ayacucho Block is one of four that comprise the Hugo Chavez Orinoco Heavy Oil Belt, also known as the Faja. Collectively, the four blocks, comprised of Boyacá, Junín, Ayacucho and Carabobo, contain the largest accumulation of heavy and extra-heavy crude oil (ECHO) in the world, according to PDVSA.

Ayacucho Block 1 contains estimated certified reserves of more than 5 billion barrels of extra-heavy oil, which serve as a guarantee to the Petro, the first Venezuelan cryptocurrency.

Ayacucho Block 1 spans an area of 380 square kilometers, and is located in the extreme northeast of the Ayacucho Division. Currently, 11 oil wells are functioning in the area where oil has an average API of 9.5 to 9.9 degrees, according to PDVSA, as the state oil company is known.
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Venezuela Tries To Pay Russian Debt With Cryptocurrency

(Tsvetana Paraskova, OilPrice.com, 28.Mar.2018) – If crisis-hit Venezuela was hoping to pay off its US$3.15-billion debt to Russia with its new cryptocurrency, those hopes have been shattered as the Russian Finance Ministry announces that it won’t be accepting digital coin.

Venezuela will not be paying any part of its debt to Russia with its cryptocurrency, the head of the Russian Finance Ministry’s state debt department, Konstantin Vyshkovsky, has said.

In November last year, Russia threw a life-line to Venezuela after the two countries signed a deal to restructure US$3.15 billion worth of Venezuelan debt owed to Moscow. Under the terms of the deal, Venezuela will be repaying the debt over the next ten years, of which the first six years include “minimal payments”.

The following month, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced that his country would be issuing an oil-backed cryptocurrency, which it did, in February this year.

Maduro’s propaganda machine is touting the digital coin as a ‘ground-breaking’ first-ever national crypto currency, the El Petro–backed by 5 billion barrels of oil reserves in Venezuela’s Orinoco Belt.

But most observers see this crypto issuance as a desperate attempt to skirt U.S. financial sanctions.

Earlier this month, U.S. President Donald Trump banned U.S. purchases, transactions, and dealings of any digital coin or token issued for or by the government of Venezuela.

Last week, Time magazine reported that Russia secretly helped Venezuela in creating the Petro, with the purpose of undermining the power of U.S. sanctions, the magazine reported, citing sources familiar with the effort.

Russia slammed the Time report as “fake news”, with Deputy Director of the Information and Press Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Artyom Kozhin, saying that Russia and Venezuela had never worked together on the development of the Venezuelan cryptocurrency.

Russia and China are the last holdouts that still finance Venezuela, which is digging deeper into the downward spiral of economic crisis, hyperinflation, and crumbling oil production. However, China is reportedly thinking of cutting off Venezuela from new loans. This would leave Russia as the only financial supporter of the Maduro regime, and if all it’s got is a crypto coin that no one really believes in to pay off debt, loans are likely to be plentiful.
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PDVSA Exploration VP Tours Faja Ops

(PDVSA, 4.Feb.2017) – PDVSA Vice President of Exploration and Production Nelson Ferrer, led a tour of the facilities of the Orinoco Drill Operators Cooperative Association, which absorbed former Petrex Sudamérica workers, in the Hugo Chávez Orinoco Oil Belt.

He was able to see the progress of the new labor scheme promoted by the oil workers and spoke with those involved in this new way of protagonist participation of the workers. He listened to their experiences and learned how the hydrocarbons extraction process has been optimized.

He also visited drilling rigs LGV-103 and PDV-57, located 15 minutes from the Ayacucho Division, in southern Anzoátegui state. Both rigs are currently part of the restoration of 28 wells, which represent an associated production of 10,000 barrels per day (mb/d) since August 2016.

“We believe in the workers; with them we generate production and added value. The organized mass of workers, with commitment and loyalty to Chávez, President Nicolás Maduro and the homeland, can achieve excellent results,” said Mr. Ferrer.

The President of the Orinoco Drill Operators Cooperative Jesús Díaz, said the workers are proud that their work transcends the borders of the state of Anzoátegui all the way to Caracas.

“We are heads of households committed to the homeland, workers’ President Nicolás Maduro and the legacy of Hugo Chávez the Giant, who always shared the idea that the workers should take over their work places,” Díaz said.

PDVSA continues to promote actions for the transformation of the oil industry, deepening its socialist vision by meeting the objectives and following the guidelines of the Homeland Plan Act and the “Golpe de Timón” or “The Turnaround”, a legacy of Supreme Commander Hugo Chávez.

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PDVSA to Industrialize Faja Oil

(PDVSA, 15.Dec.2016) – As of 2019, PDVSA, through Puerto La Cruz Refinery’s Deep Conversion Project, will industrialize crude oil from the Orinoco Oil Belt using HDHPLUS®, a Venezuelan technology, announced the People’s Power Minister of Foreign Trade and International Investment Jesus Faría.

Minister Faría and the Ambassador of South Korea to Venezuela Kyung Tea Hwang, travelled to the state of Anzoátegui to meet with the Executive Director of New Refinery Projects, Upgraders and Terminals Gabriel Oliveros, and the General Manager of Eastern Refining Diego Astudillo. The General Manager of the VONE Consortium B.I. Kim, and state governor Nelson Moreno were also at the meeting.

This is the largest crude oil refining project in our continent; it will receive an investment of $9 billion, said Faria, who was satisfied with its 73.8% progress. It currently employs 6,500 workers, and uses technology developed by PDVSA Intevep. This demonstrates the trust of large companies in South Korea, the People’s Republic of China and Japan that invest in Venezuela and its potential and sets the foundations for a productive, independent, and technologically sovereign Venezuela.

The Ambassador of South Korea Kyung Tea Hwang highlighted the investment made by Hyundai in Venezuela, which is a clear indication of the strengthening of bilateral relations between the two countries.

The General Manager of Eastern Refining Diego Astudillo said that when it is fully operational, Puerto La Cruz Refinery will process 210,000 barrels of heavy crude oil per day into light products of high commercial value. Additionally, social investment projects are being implemented to benefit the community.

Anzoátegui state governor Nelson Moreno said that this PDVSA project goes hand in hand with human development. 820 families that lived within the safety zone of Puerto La Cruz Refinery were moved away and craftsmen involved in the construction of the project received training.

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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)

PDVSA Raises Recovery Factor in South Junín District

(Energy Analytics Institute, Jared Yamin, 21.Jun.2016) – PDVSA has increased the recovery factor to 35 percent from 20 percent in the South Junín district of the Orinoco Heavy Oil Belt or the Faja using various technologies.

Said technologies could establish a base or floor recovery factor in the Faja of 40 percent, reported the daily newspaper El Universal, citing petroleum expert Fernando Travieso. Assuming such a base recovery factor, Venezuela could register certified reserves of close to 513 billion barrels, said the expert.

Details of the recovery techniques used to achieve the 35 percent recovery factor were not revealed.

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PDVSA Advances with Plants at Sinovensa, Petrocarabobo

(Energy Analytics Institute, Piero Stewart, 28.Apr.2016) — PDVSA has started work on the heavy oil treatment plants at the joint-venture companies Petrolera Sinovensa and Petrocarabobo, located in the south of Monagas and Anzoátegui states, respectively.

Investments in the Petrolera Sinovensa plant are expected to total $40 million plus an additional 600 million Venezuelan bolivars. Construction of the plant will generate 220 direct and 600 indirect employment opportunities, reported PDVSA in an official statement on its website, citing PDVSA Exploration and Production Vice President Orlando Chacín. The project contemplates the construction of 12 plants with 100,000 barrels per day of capacity over the next five years.

Sinovensa partners PDVSA with a 60 percent majority interest and the China National Petroleum Corporation with the remaining 40 percent interest.

Petrocarabobo

The Petrocarabobo joint venture has estimated proved reserves of 13.500 billion barrels and anticipates construction of a 400,000 barrel per day heavy oil upgrader that will convert 8.5 degree API oil into a lighter 32 degree API oil, said PDVSA New Orinoco Oil Projects Executive Director Rubén Figuera.

The processing module will have an initial capacity to process 50,000 barrels per day.

Investments in the Petrocarabobo plant are expected to total $65 million plus an additional 180 million Venezuelan bolivars.

“The project includes development of two additional modules that will allow for the expansion of the plant to 90,000 barrels per day over the short term,” said Figuera.

The Petrocarabobo treatment plant partners Repsol YPF (Spain) with an 11 percent interest, ONGC (India) with an 11 percent interest, Indian Oil (India) with a 3.5 percent interest, Oil India Limited (India) with a 3.5 percent interest and PDVSA as the majority owner in the project with a 71 percent interest.

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Rosneft Drills Record Well in Venezuela

(Rosneft, 8.Oct.2015) – Rosneft, as part of a PetroMiranda JV including PDVSA and Gazprom Neft, has drilled an unprecedented horizontal well GG1-14 at the Junin-6 block.

The well is unique for the shallow depth, only 1,140 feet or about 347 meters, of the reservoir interval and the length of horizontal section 4,920 ft or 1,500 meters. The total length of the well is 6,059 ft (some 1,847 meters).

The increasing of technological implementation in field development is a top priority for Rosneft’s longterm development strategy in the upstream area, which allows maintaining cost-efficient production at brownfields, and increasing production at greenfields.

This is the first of such wells to be drilled in Venezuela using conventional vertical drilling units. Complex directional work was performed to build up an angle with simultaneous azimuthal turn of well direction in the limited boundaries of the reservoir interval, thus solving the challenging task of strict following of geological targets, which is often a problem on such wells. This result was achieved due to the use of an advanced rotary steerable system (RSS), which had been introduced at the Junin-6 block with the support from Rosneft specialists.

According to the generally accepted system of ERD (Extended Reach Drilling) wells complexity evaluation, the GG1-14 is classified as the most difficult, with a Directional Difficulty Index (DDI) index of 6.63 and an ERD index of 4.44, which is a record for wells in Venezuela today. In order to meet geological objectives and place the well exactly in the reservoir interval, such projects require technologically competent planning and outstanding delivery in terms of construction.

Drilling of such shallow wells opens up new prospects for the development of hydrocarbon reserves in the Venezuelan Orinoco Heavy Oil Belt. According to the geological analysis made by Rosneft and PDVSA, significant oil reserves are located in shallow formations. The company intends to further expand the use of advanced solutions to drill more efficient wells and access significant hydrocarbon reserves.

Currently Rosneft and PDVSA cooperate in the realization of 5 JV in the upstream sphere in Venezuela:

— Project Carabobo-2 (Petrovictoria JV): PDVSA via CVP, WI 60%; Rosneft, WI 40%

— PetroMonagas JV: PDVSA via CVP, WI 83.3%; Rosneftm WI 16.7%

— Project Junin-6 (PetroMiranda JV): PDVSA via CVP, WI 60%; NOC, WI 40% (Rosneft, WI 80% and Gazprom Neft, WI 20%)

— Boqueron JV: PDVSA via CVP, WI 60%; Rosneft, WI 40%

— Petroperija JV: PDVSA via CVP, WI 60%; Rosneft, WI 40%.

Total geological oil resources of these projects are estimated at more than 20.5 bln t.

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Venezuela Seeks Disqualification of ICSID Judges

(Energy Analytics Institute, Jared Yamin, 26.Mar.2015) – Venezuela presented a letter to the ICSID court requesting the dismissal of judge Kenneth Keith.

Keith is the president of the arbitration tribunal in the case brought to the court by ConocoPhillips in its wrongful expropriation case against the government of Venezuela which nationalized the Houston-based company’s assets in the Orinoco Heavy Oil Belt, also known as the Faja.

Venezuela is also seeking dismisal of another judge in the case, Yves Fortier.

ConocoPhillips was originally seeking compensation of $30 billion for its assets that were expropriated by the government of then President Hugo Chavez. ConocoPhillips interest at question were called Petrozuata, La Hamaca and Corocoro, now called Petroanzoátegui, PetroPiar and PetroSucre, respectively.

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Venezuela Opening Ops to Nicaragua, Caribbean

(Energy Analytics Institute, Piero Stewart, 9.Mar.2015) – “We are advancing with Nicaragua and opening up possibilities to the rest of the Caribbean,” said Venezuela’s Oil Minister Asdrubal Chavez on state television, referring to Nicaragua and other Petrocaribe member countries participating in activities in Venezuela’s Orinoco heavy oil belt or Faja.

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1St Venezuela-India Round-table in Caracas

(Energy Analytics Institute, Ian Silverman, 7.Oct.2013) – The 1st Business Round-table meetings between Venezuelan and Indian companies took place in Caracas from October 7-9, 2013.

Highlights from the round-table follow:

Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez addressed opening ceremony:

  • Venezuelan-India create working tables to collaborate on development of the six topics/areas: 1. The Orinoco Heavy Oil Belt, 2. Gas offshore and onshore, 3. Refining, petrochemicals and commercialization & supply, 4. Engineering and construction, 5. Procurement of goods and services, and 6. Technology interchange.
  • Indian Cos. participating in 1st Venezuela-India Business Roundtable include: Engineers’ India Limited, Essar, Hpcl-Mittal Energy Ltd (HMEL), Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), Oil India Ltd (OIL), ONGC VIDESH (OVL), Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) and Larsen & Toubro Ltd.
  • Ramirez hopes that Indian cos. visiting country can sign agreements sooner, rather than later.
  • Venezuela-India to discuss business and partnership opportunities over the next 6 months.
  • India cos. have technology to develop Venezuela’s oil reserves in the Orinoco Heavy Oil Belt, Ramirez says. As such, Venezuela is in discussions with Indian cos. for participation in new refinery projects, Ramirez says.
  • Venezuela looking to create JVs with Indian cos. to build oil tankers, Ramirez says.
  • Venezuela looks to expand petrochemical sector with the assistance of Indian cos.

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Bolivar State Governor Comments on Faja

(Energy Analytics Institute, Piero Stewart, 27.Jul.2013) – The Governor of Bolivar state in Venezuela, Francisco José Rangel Gómez, commented on the Faja.

“Chavez gave us political independence and now we will obtain economic independence with the development of the Faja.”

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Speech by Rafael Ramirez from Puerto Ordaz

(Energy Analytics Institute, Piero Stewart, 27.Jul.2013) – PDVSA’s and Venezuela’s Oil Minister President Rafael Ramirez spoke at the closing of the Sixth National Production Meetings in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela.

What follows are excerpts from the speech.

Speech by Rafael Ramirez on Venezuelan petroleum sector:

Ramirez: At the closing event for the 6th National Production Meetings here in Puerto Ordaz, we have many people and companies interested in working with PDVSA in the Faja.

We plan to use our petroleum resources to resolve problems created by capitalism, especially related to exclusion and poverty. Socialism is the alternative for humanity and the Venezuelan petroleum industry participates in the construction of socialism in Venezuela.

PDVSA oil exports for Jan.-Jun.2013 (See Table 1):

Table 1: PDVSA oil exports

—————– Jan-Jun.2013 —- Jan-Jun.2012

Oil (Mb/d) ——– 2,482 ———- 2,515

$/bbl ———— $100.14 ——– $105.41

Rev. ($mm) —— $48,490 ——– $51.092

Source: PDVSA

PDVSA spent $23.8 bln in 2012 on CAPEX and the plan for 2013 is to achieve CAPEX of $25.3 bln, of which $7.0 bln has been spent through the first half of the year. We have all the US dollars we need to execute our capital budget. PDVSA plans to finance 30-40% of required yearly investments.

Loans from China for $5 bln will allow us to continue to develop tremendous projects underway here in Venezuela.

PDVSA/Venezuela to continue to defend a $100/bbl oil price floor but would like prices to move above this level. Venezuela does not produce more because our political policy is to defend prices. We will maintain our 3 MMb/d production quota under OPEC.

Again, the 3 MMb/d production level is our OPEC quota, which represents about 11% of OPEC production volumes.

We are in the process of constructing production capacity that will be able to respond to additional barrels immediately for the market.

The effects of Sowing Oil Plan now allows Venezuelan state to capture 94% of the income per barrel while IOCs capture just 6%. During the 4th Republic PDVSA captured 47% while IOCs captured 53% (See Table 2).

Table 2: Tax Schemes

———————- 4th Republic —- New Gov’t

Royalties ————– 1% ———— 33.3%

Income Tax (ISLR) —— 34% ———– 50%

PDVSA participation —- 30% ———— 60%

Recovery factor ——– <8% ———– >20%

Source: PDVSA

Regarding discounts: We don’t offer discounts to anybody, we sell our petroleum at market prices.

Ramirez: The Old PDVSA sold gasoline with lead to the Venezuelan population and exported unleaded premium gasoline. We have assumed the cost of the gasoline subsidy but we have decided that we would sell to the Venezuelan population clean gasoline, gasoline that doesn’t pollute the environment.

The Faja will be produced with directional drilling platforms, which have an enormous potential and a very powerful effect, but with little effect on environment. For each acre we can achieve 40,000 b/d of production.

We have pilot projects in the Faja with recovery rates of 40%. We should aim for the maximum recovery rates in the Faja.

In the Faja we have to drill 10,200 new wells and build 560 directional drilling platforms in order to produce 4 MMb/d by the end of 2019.

With our resources and actual production levels (3 MMb/d) we have petroleum resources that can last for 300 years. With production of 6 MMb/d we have resources for 150 years.

Actually, we have 15,000 workers in the Faja, but we need to increase this number to 40,000.

The world’s last great oil province is here in the Faja. We are actually producing around 1.2 MMb/d in the Faja. 202 rigs are operating in the Faja each day, of these, 116 are owned by PDVSA.

Changes to existing refineries in Venezuela to assist them in processing more Venezuelan heavy oil.

We plan to convert the Paraguana Refining Complex (CRP) in a petrochemical plant.

We are evaluating a scheme whereby we will convert and increase our existing upgrader. We are looking to have upgraders that could be refineries and/or have upgraders that can upgrade crude to 42 degrees API.

We estimate that for our upgraders/production projects we need at a minimum $42/bbl oil price.

We are looking to produce crudes of better quality for mixing with other crudes.

We want to reduce cost and improve efficiency in production. We have stopped the production declines in Western Venezuela.

The U.S. Geological Service says there are more than 170 Tcf of gas in the Faja. We aim to certify all these reserves.

Perla 3X gas discovery (9.5 Tcf) is high in condensate that will be sent to the CRP. The government expects to extract 30,000-40,000 b/d of condensate from project.

We are consuming a lot of diesel due to increasing usage by electric plants.

We have used 229 MMcf/d of gas to substitute the use of 37,000 b/d of diesel, allowing us to generate 896 MW of new production.

The largest markets for oil outside the USA are the Asian countries, especially China and India. We are sending more than 1 MMb/d to these two countries and volumes are expected to increase in the future. The decision to send oil to China and India is the correct political decision.

We have gained our sovereignty fighting and this is the fight we have engaged in to diversify our export markets.

We expect the JV partners to put up at least 20% of the total investments in the Faja upgraders.

In Venezuela there is not enough supply (goods and services). As such, by the end of 2019, we expect the national petroleum sector to supply at least 80% of the goods/services to all the oil projects.

We are producing about 7,000 MMcf/d of gas but aim to reach 10,511 MMcf/d by the end of 2019.

In the Junin 10 North block, an agreement with Total/Statoil did not work out but PDVSA has been developing the field alone.

Sinovensa is producing 134,000 b/d but the goal is to reach 165,000 b/d by YE:13 and 330,000 b/d from the project over the long-term.

Companies have production targets they should try to hit these targets

We have always paid our bond obligations. Our bonds are one of the best investments out there.

We have around 6 million tons of coke, the amount that Brazil consumes in one year. We want to use this coke here to get around storage and transport issues. Coke is a problem for Venezuela and PDVSA and we hope to resolve this issue by using the coke to generate electricity.

Portable water is also a serious problem for us as we need it for our operations in the Faja.

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