Citgo, Valero Drive Up U.S. Purchases of Venezuelan Oil in September

(Reuters, Marianna Parraga, 4.Oct.2018) — Venezuela’s September crude sales to the United States rose to their highest in over a year, boosted by purchases by Citgo Petroleum, the U.S. refining arm of Venezuela’s state-run PDVSA, and Valero Energy, according to Refinitiv Eikon trade flows data.

A collision in August at a dock of Venezuela’s main oil port of Jose has limited exports in large vessels to Asia, spurring loading of more medium-size tankers including those typically covering routes to the United States.

Venezuela’s overall crude exports fell 14 percent in September to 1.105 million bpd due to declining oil output and dock woes at Jose terminal. The OPEC-member country’s crude production fell for third time in a row to 1.448 million bpd in August, according to official figures.

The United States imported 601,505 barrels per day (bpd) of Venezuelan crude last month, a 28-percent increase versus August and the highest monthly average since August 2017, according to the Refinitiv Eikon data.

Valero and Citgo bought over 250,000 bpd each of Venezuelan crude last month compared with an average of 170,000 bpd earlier this year, according to the data.

A total of 38 cargoes were purchased by U.S. customers from PDVSA and its joint ventures in September. At least three of those shipments were co-loaded in different Venezuelan ports to avoid problems at Jose, where repairs are expected to take at least one more month to be completed.

PDVSA’s exports last month included more light and medium crudes, generally produced at very low levels in Venezuela and leaving less of these grades for PDVSA’s domestic refineries to produce fuels.

In September, PDVSA sold Citgo and Valero some 84,000 bpd of Santa Barbara, Mesa and Leona crudes, which are typically processed at Venezuelan refineries.

PDVSA regularly imports gasoline, diesel, liquefied petroleum gas and refining feedstock to offset low production at its refineries.

(Reporting by Marianna Parraga; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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PetroTal Corp. Announces Intention for Secondary Quote of Common Shares

(PetroTal Corp., 26.Sep.2018) — PetroTal Corp. announced its intention to seek a secondary quotation of its common shares with their admission to trading on the London Stock Exchange’s AIM market, subject to preparation of the requisite documentation. The company expects that the shares will begin trading by the end of this year.

“We are focused on realizing the value of our material oil assets in Peru. A secondary quotation on London’s AIM would hopefully increase liquidity and allow us to broaden the shareholder register, at a time when we both are rapidly moving ahead in [Peru] with the development of Block 95 and continuing to assess potential partners for Block 107,” said PetroTal President and Chief Executive Officer Manolo Zuniga.

PetroTal Corp. is a junior oil and gas company domiciled in Canada with corporate offices in Houston, Texas. The company is focused on development of oil and gas assets in Peru.

The company is seeking admission to AIM, alongside its current listing on the TSX Venture Exchange, in order to take advantage of AIM’s liquidity, as well as to access a broader range of institutional investors. The Board believes this will help expedite the unlocking the value of PetroTal’s Peruvian assets. PetroTal would be the only exclusively Peru focused independent oil and gas company quoted in London.

Strand Hanson Limited is acting as the company’s Nominated Adviser on the proposed admission.

PetroTal will hold a special meeting of shareholders on October 25, 2018 to amend the Articles of the company in preparation for the secondary quotation. A management information circular and related meeting materials have been mailed to the company’s registered shareholders and filed on SEDAR at www.sedar.com.

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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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CITGO Awards Grant, Continues Restoration Work

(Citgo, 29.Aug.2018) — Through the CITGO Caring for Our Coast initiative, a program designed to boost ecological conservation, restoration and education, The Conservation Foundation (TCF) has been awarded a grant to continue its restoration work in the Heritage Quarries Recreation Area (HQRA) in Lemont.

In partnership with TCF and the Village of Lemont, the CITGO Lemont Refinery has been funding semiannual projects and working alongside local volunteers in the HQRA since the fall of 2014, removing invasive plant species and brush, and harvesting native species’ seeds for replanting.

Located half a mile east of downtown Lemont, the HQRA is situated among thousands of acres of forest preserves, which includes more than 65 miles of hiking and biking trails, as well as access to fishing and boating along the I & M Canal and the Consumers, Great Lakes and Icebox Quarries.

According to Scott LaMorte, senior advancement officer at TCF, the transformation of the HQRA, in just four years, has been remarkable.

“During a community workday last year, my group was assigned to clear a section near the picnic grove. After cutting out some of the weedy shrubs, we uncovered a pond that hadn’t been seen in decades! The ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos are just incredible,” said LaMorte.

Dennis Willig, Vice President and General Manager of the CITGO Lemont Refinery, describes the HQRA project as neighbors-serving-neighbors.

“We are proud to partner with the local community, because not only are natural resources being preserved, but residents will be able to enjoy the benefits of this outdoor recreational space for years to come,” said Willig.

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PDVSA, Citgo Evaluating Aruba Gas Plan

(Energy Analytics Institute, Piero Stewart, 25.Aug.2018) — Venezuela is evaluating a plan to implement a natural gas project with Aruba.

Officials from Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA, and its refining arm Citgo Petroleum Corporation continue to evaluate the potential of such a project that would imply a gas interconnection between Venezuela and Aruba, reported PDVSA in an official statement.

No further details about the plan 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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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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Crystallex Cuts Others In Line for Citgo Assets

(Energy Analytics Institute, Jared Yamin, 11.Aug.2018) – Crystallex seems to have cut in line while there are many others already in line for CITGO assets and value.

What follows are comments published by Venezuelan oil analyst Francisco Monaldi in a series of tweets related to the legal battle over CITGO:

1) The value of CITGO is much higher than the claim by Crystallex, which by the way was an outrageously high amount for that expropriation,

2) This is the beginning of a shark fest of claims and lawsuits. There are many others in line for CITGO assets and value, CITGO bond holders, CITGO creditors, PDVSA 2020 bondholders, Rosneft, Conoco, other PDVSA and Venezuela creditors and ICSID claimants. It seems to me that Crystallex should not be ahead in this line,

3) In the short term this would be a blow for PDVSA making it harder to get diluents from the US and to earn cash from its heavy exports, but it is just the last in a long list of troubles including default and sanctions,

4) In the long term it would be a big blow to Venezuela, losing a strategic asset to access the USGC market in competition with Canadian heavy, particularly after Keystone is completed,

5) Outside of CITGO, Venezuela has only a few much less valuable assets, what claimants will try is to seize or disrupt PDVSA’s flows of oil and receivables, and force them to negotiate something, and

6) This is a tragic story of recklessness and incompetence by the chavismo, increasing the debt without investment, expropriating and destroying value, in the middle of an oil boom. The consequences, collapsed oil production and now the final reckoning with their claimants…

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Analysts: Only a Matter of Time Before Venezuela Loses Citgo

A tanker sails out of the Port of Corpus Christi in Texas after discharging crude oil at the Citgo refinery. Photo: Eddie Seal, Stf / Bloomberg

(Houston Chronicle, Jordan Blum, 10.Aug.2018) – Financially crippled Venezuela likely will lose control of its Houston refining arm Citgo Petroleum once a slew of lawsuits eventually are resolved, and it’s just a matter of when and to whom, finance and energy analysts said Friday.

A federal judge ruled late Thursday that a defunct Canadian mining firm can go after Citgo’s assets to collect $1.4 billion it allegedly lost from Venezuela when the government seized mining and energy assets more than a decade ago under the late socialist leader Hugo Chávez.

While the Canadian firm, Crystallex International, is unlikely to take control of Citgo’s refining and retail gasoline assets throughout the U.S., the ruling is expected to kick off an array of new legal claims against Venezuela and its state oil company – from Houston-based ConocoPhillips to other oil and gas firms – with the goal of winning Citgo as the prize, legal and finance experts said. After all, Venezuela owes a lot of money to a lot of different companies.

Whichever company eventually wins out could sell to refiners that might be interested, including San Antonio’s Valero Energy, Houston’s Phillips 66, Ohio-based Marathon Petroleum and New Jersey’s PBF Energy, said Jennifer Rowland, and energy analyst with Edward Jones in St. Louis.

“It’s not every day that a suite of refineries becomes available, especially along the Gulf Coast,” Rowland said. “Those assets would definitely fit in some companies’ portfolios.”

Citgo, which declined comment Friday, owns oil refineries in Corpus Christi, Lake Charles, La., and Illinois. The company employs about 4,000 people in the U.S., including 800 in Houston. Citgo has roughly 160 branded gas stations in the Houston area, and about 5,500 nationwide. The company is valued at nearly $8 billion.

Citgo is a U.S. company with a more than 100-year history. It was acquired by Venezuela’s state-run oil company three decades ago. The state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA, is known as PDVSA.

The Citgo assets are seen as the crown jewel for companies targeting PDVSA legally because they’re the most accessible assets outside of Venezuela, said Craig Pirrong, a University of Houston finance professor specializing in energy markets. Thursday’s court ruling opened the door for many more claims made against Citgo by those owed money by Venezuela, he said, because the judge allowed Venezuela’s debts to extend to its U.S. refining assets as an “alter ego” of the government.

“It’s going to be like a feeding frenzy going after Citgo,” Pirrong said.

And now a series of complex legal battles will ensue, possibly dragging out into next year, said Franciso Monaldi, a fellow in Latin American Energy Policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

“I don’t expect PDVSA to immediately lose control of Citgo, but I think eventually it will happen,” Monaldi said. “It’s really just a matter of who will get it.”

Venezuela has suffered a financial and geopolitical freefall under Chavez’ socialist successor and current president, Nicolas Maduro. Many thousands of people have fled the country, fearing starvation and violence, including some PDVSA workers, as the country’s oil production has plummeted.

As he’s consolidated power in the destabilized nation, Maduro jailed an opposition lawmaker this week after a failed assassination plot that involved two flying drones with explosives.

Citgo has faced increasing uncertainty since November, when its acting president and five other Houston-based executives with dual citizenship were arrested in Venezuela on corruption charges.

Maduro installed Chávez’s cousin, Asdrúbal Chávez, as the new Citgo president. Although he remains in charge, the new Citgo leader was ordered in July by the U.S. State Department to surrender his U.S. visa amid an ongoing probe into PDVSA. Citgo said Chávez would continue in his role remotely for now.

The future of Citgo is further complicated because 49.9 percent of Citgo is pledged to Russian oil giant Rosneft as collateral for a $1.5 billion loan. The U.S. government would fight losing control of Citgo to Russian interests, analysts said.

As for Crystallex, Thursday’s ruling doesn’t actually hand Citgo over to the defunct firm. But it does position Crystallex to force a large settlement from Venezuela, Monaldi said.

He added that ConocoPhillips could make a stronger claim for Citgo because it’s already won a $2 billion ruling against PDVSA, and not just Venezuela as a whole. In the spring, ConocoPhillips won court orders to seize PDVSA assets on Caribbean islands, quickly taking action against refining and oil storage assets in the Caribbean islands of Curacao, Bonaire and Sint Eustatius.

But ConocoPhillips said it is still a good ways off from recouping the full $2 billion. ConocoPhillips also argued PDVSA has transferred some petroleum products to Citgo to prevent their seizure.

“It’s looking bleak for Venezuela,” Pirrong added.

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Crystallex Court Win Against Venezuela Aided by Finding

(Reuters, Brian Ellsworth, 10.Aug.2018) – Crystallex’s victory in a legal battle with Venezuela that paves the way for it to collect a $1.4 billion award hinged on a finding that state oil company PDVSA is not separate from the Venezuelan government, court documents showed on Friday.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware granted Crystallex’s request to take ownership of shares in PDVSA subsidiary of PDVH, which owns U.S.-based refiner Citgo, as part of a decade-long dispute over the 2008 nationalization of Crystallex assets.

“Crystallex has met its burden to rebut the presumption of separateness between PDVSA and Venezuela and proven that PDVSA is the alter ego of Venezuela,” wrote Judge Leonard P. Stark in the decision.

The issue has been closely watched by investors holding billions of dollars in Venezuelan bonds, which are almost all in default as the OPEC nation struggles under the collapse of its socialist economy.

Legal experts had generally believed that creditors of Venezuela, which has few foreign assets available to be seized by creditors, would have a difficult time pursuing claims against PDVSA because the two were considered separate.

Venezuela two years ago put up 49.9 percent of Citgo shares as collateral for a $1.5 billion loan from Russian oil major Rosneft. The remaining 50.1 percent was set aside as collateral for PDVSA’s 2020 bond.

Judge Stark said the court had not yet determined when it would issue a writ allowing Crystallex to assume ownership of the shares of PDV Holding Inc, or what mechanism should be used to sell those shares.

“The decision could make it more complicated if other courts ignore the boundary between the government and PDVSA,” said Mark Weidemaier, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law. “It expands the pool of creditors that could go after PDVSA and casts a shadow over its ability to keep its oil receivables safe.”

PDVSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez, asked by a reporter about the decision during a press conference on Friday, declined to comment on it.

Legal counsel for Crystallex declined to comment.

PDVSA’s 2020 bond dropped 4.500 points in price to 85.500 on Friday

Bonds issued by PDVSA and Venezuela were down slightly, in line with a broad selloff in global markets on Friday.

( Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York, Editing by Paul Simao and Cynthia Osterman)

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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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Crystallex Can Go After Venezuela’s US Refineries

(Associated Press, 9.Aug.2018) – A Canadian gold mining company on Thursday won the right to go after Venezuela’s prized U.S.-based oil refineries and collect $1.4 billion it lost in a decade-old take-over by the late socialist President Hugo Chavez.

Chief Judge Leonard P. Stark of the U.S. Federal District Court in Delaware made the ruling in favor of Crystallex, striking a blow to crisis-wracked Venezuela, which stands to lose its most valuable asset outside of the country – Citgo.

Chavez took over the gold mining firm and many other international companies as part of his Bolivarian revolution that’s left the country spiraling into deepening economic and political turmoil.

Venezuelans struggle to afford scarce food and medicine as masses flee across the border. In a sign of rising political tensions, current President Nicolas Maduro threw an opposition lawmaker in jail this week, charged in a failed assassination plot using two drones loaded with explosives.

The latest order by the U.S. judge could set off a scramble by a long list of creditors owed $65 billion from bonds that cash-strapped Venezuela has stopped paying within the last year, said Russ Dallen, a Miami-based partner at the brokerage firm Caracas Capital Markets.

“This was the most vulnerable low hanging fruit for debtholders to go after,” Dallen said. “It looks like Crystallex is the lucky lottery winner because they got there first.”

Chavez in early 2009 announced Venezuela’s take-over of the Canadian mining operations in Bolivar state, a mineral rich region with one of the continent’s largest gold deposits. He accused mining companies of damaging the environment and violating workers’ rights.

Crystallex spent years trying to negotiate a deal with Venezuela before making its case in 2011 to a World Bank arbitration panel, which sided with the Canadian firm, despite Venezuela’s vigorous fight.

U.S.-based Citgo, part of the state-run oil company PDVSA, has three refineries in Louisiana, Texas and Illinois in addition to a network of pipelines. If the order is carried out, Crystallex won’t get all of Citgo – valued at $8 billion – but Venezuela could be forced to liquidate it to make good on the court order.

Today, the gold mining region once operated by Crystallex is largely lawless and dangerous, run by rogue miners who blast the earth with water and mercury to expose gold nuggets and sell them to government forces, often leading to deadly conflicts.

The judge’s ruling is unique, because government assets, like PDVSA, are normally protected from lawsuits against a sovereign nation. But the judge found that Crystallex can attach Citgo’s parent because Venezuela has erased the lines between the government and its oil firm, now run by a military general.

Upon issuing the order, the judge delayed enforcing it for a week, which Dallen said could be a move to give Crystallex and Venezuela time to reach an agreement, such as returning to payment terms of an earlier resolution, Dallen said.

“This gives Venezuela the chance to honor its settlement agreement,” Dallen said. “Or they’ll lose Citgo.”

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Venezuela Dodges Oil Asset Seizures

(Reuters, Marianna Parraga, Mircely Guanipa, 7.Aug.2018) – Reuters) – Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA has limited the damage from an unprecedented slump in crude exports by transferring oil between tankers at sea and loading vessels in neighboring Cuba to avoid asset seizures.

But the OPEC member nation is still fulfilling less than 60 percent of its obligations under supply deals with customers.

Venezuela has been pumping oil this year at the lowest rate in three decades after years of underinvestment and a mass exodus of workers. The state-run firm’s collapse has left the country short of cash to fund its embattled socialist government and triggered an economic crisis.

PDVSA’s problems were compounded in May when U.S. oil firm ConocoPhillips began seizing PDVSA assets in the Caribbean as payment for a $2 billion arbitration award. An arbitration panel at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) ordered PDVSA to pay the cash to compensate Conoco for expropriating the firm’s Venezuelan assets in 2007.

The seizures left PDVSA without access to facilities such as Isla refinery in Curacao and BOPEC terminal in Bonaire that accounted for almost a quarter of the company’s oil exports.

Conoco’s actions also forced PDVSA to stop shipping oil on its own vessels to terminals in the Caribbean, and then onto refineries worldwide, to avoid the risk the cargoes would be seized in international waters or foreign ports.

Instead, PDVSA asked customers to charter tankers to Venezuelan waters and load from the company’s own terminals or from anchored PDVSA vessels acting as floating storage units.

The state-run company told some clients in early June it might impose force majeure, a temporary suspension of export contracts, unless they agreed to such ship-to-ship transfers.

PDVSA also requested the customers stop sending vessels to its terminals until it could load those that were already clogging Venezuela’s coastline.

Initially, customers were reluctant to undertake the transfers because of costs, safety concerns and the need for specialist equipment and experienced crew.

But PDVSA has managed to export about 1.3 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil since early July, up from just 765,000 bpd in the first half of June, according to Thomson Reuters data and internal PDVSA shipping data seen by Reuters.

That was still 59 percent of the country’s 2.19 million bpd in contractual obligations to customers for that period, and some vessels are still waiting for weeks in Venezuelan waters to load oil.

There were about two dozen tankers waiting this week to load over 22 million barrels of crude and refined products at the country’s largest ports, according to Reuters data.

“We are not tied to one option or a single loading terminal,” PDVSA President Manuel Quevedo said on Tuesday of the company’s exports. “We have several (terminals) in our country and we have some in the Caribbean, which of course facilitate crude shipping to fulfill our supply contracts.”

CUBAN CONNECTION

PDVSA has also used a route through Cuba to ease the impact of the Conoco seizures. That route is for fuel rather than crude.

The Venezuelan company has used a terminal at the port of Matanzas as a conduit mostly for exporting fuel oil, according to two people familiar with the operations and Thomson Reuters shipping data. Venezuela’s fuel oil is burned in some countries to generate electricity.

Two tankers set sail from the Matanzas terminal for Singapore between mid-May and early July, Reuters data showed. Each ship carried around 500,000 barrels of Venezuelan fuel, Reuters data shows.

In recent months, Venezuela has been shipping fuel to Matanzas in small batches, according to the data.

PDVSA and Cuba’s state-run oil firm Cupet have used Matanzas to store Venezuelan crude and fuel in the past but exports from the terminal to Asian destinations are rare.

That is in part because vessels that use Cuban ports cannot subsequently dock in the United States due to the U.S. commercial embargo on Cuba.

Cupet did not respond to requests for comment.

PDVSA has also used ship-to-ship transfers to fulfill an unusual supply contract it has with Cuba’s Cienfuegos refinery.

The refinery dates from the 1980s – when Cuba was a close ally of the Soviet Union during the Cold War – and the facility was built to process Russian crude.

PDVSA typically uses its own or leased tankers to bring Russian crude from storage in the nearby Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao to Cienfuegos. But it is now discharging the imported Russian oil at sea in Cayman Islands’ waters via these seaborne transfers.

ConocoPhillips last month ratcheted up its collection efforts by moving to depose officials from Citgo Petroleum, PDVSA’s U.S. refining arm, arguing it had improperly claimed ownership of some PDVSA cargoes.

Citgo declined to comment.

ConocoPhillips is also preparing new legal actions to get Caribbean courts to recognize its International Chamber of Commerce arbitration award. If it succeeds in those efforts, it would be able to sell the assets to help satisfy the ruling.

Reporting by Marianna Parraga in Houston and Mircely Guanipa in Punto Fijo, Venezuela; additional reporting by Marc Frank in Havana; Editing by Simon Webb and Brian Thevenot

***

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
***

Ex-Venezuelan Energy Official Pleads Guilty

(AP, 16.Jul.2018) – A former official at a state-run electric company in Caracas, Venezuela, pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy relating to an alleged multibillion-dollar graft scheme in the Venezuelan oil industry.

Luis Carlos de Leon-Perez, a 42-year-old dual citizen of the United States and Venezuela, admitted his role in the scheme to bribe officials of Venezuela’s state-owned-and-controlled oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Houston announced. He also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 24.

De Leon admitted seeking bribes from owners of energy companies in the United States and elsewhere and directing some of the bribes to PDVSA officials.

In 2016, Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly said $11 billion went missing at PDVSA in 2004-2014, when Rafael Ramirez was in charge of the company. In 2015, the U.S. Treasury Department accused a bank in Andorra of laundering some $2 billion stolen from PDVSA.

Ramirez was one of Venezuela’s most powerful officials until he resigned as Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations in December. He was not charged in the indictment and has denied any wrongdoing, dismissing the U.S. probe into PDVSA as a politically motivated attempt to undermine President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government.

De Leon was arrested in Spain last October and extradited to the United States after a federal grand jury in Houston returned a 20-count indictment against him, Nervis Gerardo Villalobos Cardenas, 51; Cesar David Rincon Godoy, 51: Alejandro Isturiz Chiesa, 33; and Rafael Ernesto Reiter Munoz, 39.

Cesar Rincon has already pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy. Roberto Enrique Rincon Fernandez, 57, of The Woodlands, Texas; and Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas, 55, of Coral Gables, Florida, have pleaded guilty to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and await sentencing. Prosecutors say they paid bribes in exchange for contracts to build electricity generators for PDVSA at a time Venezuela was suffering widespread power outages.

In all, 12 suspects have entered guilty pleas relating to the investigation, the Justice Department said.

Villalobos, Ramirez’s former deputy at PDVSA; Reiter, PDVSA’s former corporate security chief, and Isturiz all await trial on charges of money laundering and money laundering conspiracy. Villalobos also is charged with conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He and Reiter remain in Spain awaiting extradition, while Isturiz still has not been arrested.

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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)

***

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.

***

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.
***

PDVSA Participates in OTC 2017 in Houston

(Energy Analytics Institute, Aaron Simonsky, 13.May.2017) – PDVSA participated in the Offshore Technology Conference held in Houston, Texas from 1-4.May.2017.

PDVSA Gas Vice President César Triana headed a sizable contingent, and presented the company’s Business Plan 2016-2026 to conference participants.

***

Harvest Natural Announces 4Q:16 Results

(Harvest Natural Resources, Inc., 6.Mar.2017) – Harvest Natural Resources, Inc. announced 2016 fourth quarter and year-end earnings.

Harvest posted a fourth quarter 2016 net income of $100.6 million, or $9.00 per basic and diluted share, compared with a net loss of $73.2 million, or $5.70 per basic and diluted share, for the 2015 fourth quarter. For the year-ended December 31, 2016, Harvest’s net income was $66.6 million, or $5.35 per basic and diluted share, compared with a net loss of $98.6 million, or $8.71 per basic and diluted share, for 2015.

The fourth quarter 2016 results include non-recurring items of (i) gain on the sale of Harvest-Vinccler Dutch Holding B.V. of $118.9 million or $10.64 pre-tax per basic and diluted share; and (ii) loss on extinguishment of debt of $10.3 million, or $0.92 pre-tax per basic and diluted share. Adjusted for these non-recurring items, Harvest would have had a fourth quarter net loss, unadjusted for any income tax effects, of $8 million, or $0.72 per basic and diluted share.

The year-end 2016 results include exploration charges of $2.4 million, or $0.19 pre-tax per basic and diluted share, and non-recurring items of (i) gain on the sale of Harvest Holding of $115.5 million, or $9.29 per basic and diluted share; (ii) loss on the impairment of oilfield inventories of $1.5 million, or $0.12 pretax per basic and diluted share; (iii) interest expense of $4.2 million, or $0.34 pre-tax per basic and diluted share; (iv) loss on the change in fair value of warrant liabilities of $9.4 million, or $0.75 pre-tax per basic and diluted share; (v) gain on the change in fair value of derivative assets and liabilities of $2.4 million, or $0.19 pre-tax per basic and diluted share; (vi) loss on the extinguishment of debt of $10.3 million, or $0.83 pre-tax per basic and diluted share; and (vii) impairment of a note receivable of $5.2 million, or $0.41 per basic and diluted share. Adjusted for exploration charges and these non-recurring items, Harvest’s net loss, unadjusted for any tax effects, for 2016 would have been $18.5 million, or $1.49 per basic and diluted share.

Sale of Venezuela Interests

On October 7, 2016, Harvest completed the sale of all of its interests in Venezuela. The sale occurred pursuant to a June 29, 2016 share purchase agreement under which HNR Energia B.V. sold its 51 percent interest in Harvest Holding to Delta Petroleum N.V., a limited liability company organized under the laws of Curacao. Harvest Holding indirectly owned a 40% interest in Petrodelta S.A., through which all of the company’s interests in Venezuela were owned. As a result of the sale, Harvest Holding’s effect on results of operations and other items directly related to the sale have been reported as discontinued operations.

CT Energy Holding SRL, a private investment firm organized as a Barbados Society with Restricted Liability, assigned all of its rights and obligations under the Share Purchase Agreement to its affiliate, Delta Petroleum, on September 26, 2016. Harvest has no control or ownership interest in Delta Petroleum.

At the closing, the company received consideration consisting of:

— $69.4 million in cash paid after various closing adjustments. — An 11% non-convertible senior promissory note payable by Delta Petroleum to HNR Energia six months from the closing date in the principal amount of $12 million, guaranteed by the sole member and sole equity-holder of Delta Petroleum. This note plus accrued interest is due April 7, 2017. — The return of all of the company’s common stock owned by CT Energy, consisting of 2,166,900 shares to be held by the company as treasury shares. — The cancellation of $30 million in outstanding principal under the 15% Note. — The cancellation of the warrant issued to CT Energy in 2015 to purchase up to 8,517,705 shares of common stock for $5 per share (after adjustments for the November 3, 2016 stock split).

The relationship between the company and CT Energy effectively terminated upon the completion of the sale under the Share Purchase Agreement. All company securities held by CT Energy were terminated or relinquished, and Oswaldo Cisneros and Alberto Sosa resigned as CT Energy’s non-independent designees to the company’s board of directors. Additionally, all liens securing company debt formerly owed to CT Energy were released at the closing. Upon the closing, the company’s primary assets were cash from the proceeds of the transaction and the company’s oil and gas interests in Gabon.

NOL Poison Pill

Rights Agreement to Protect Net Operating Losses

On February 16, 2017, the Board adopted a Rights Agreement designed to preserve the company’s tax assets. As of December 31, 2016, the company had cumulative net operating loss carryforwards (NOLs) of approximately $56 million, which can be utilized in certain circumstances to offset possible future U.S. taxable income.

Harvest’s ability to use these tax benefits would be limited if it were to experience an “ownership change” as defined under Section 382 of the Internal Revenue Code. An ownership change would occur if stockholders that own (or are deemed to own) at least five percent or more of Harvest’s outstanding common stock increased their cumulative ownership in the company by more than 50 percentage points over their lowest ownership percentage within a rolling three-year period. The Rights Plan reduces the likelihood that changes in Harvest’s investor base would limit Harvest’s future use of its tax benefits.

Shareholder Vote

At the company’s special meeting of stockholders on February 23, 2017, the stockholders voted to (1) authorize the sale by us, indirectly through a subsidiary, of all of our interests in Gabon upon the terms and conditions set forth in the Sale and Purchase Agreement; (2) approve, on an advisory basis, compensation that will or may become payable by us to our named executive officers in connection with the sale of our Gabon interests; and (3) authorize the complete liquidation and dissolution of Harvest.

Proposed Dissolution and Liquidation

Following the successful sale of our Venezuelan interests in October 2016 and in light of the proposed sale of our Gabon interests, our board of directors considered dissolution and liquidation as a possible alternative. On January 12, 2017, the Board unanimously determined that the dissolution and liquidation of Harvest was advisable, authorized the dissolution and liquidation and recommended that the proposed complete dissolution be submitted to a vote of Harvest’s stockholders.

Our Board also adopted a plan of complete dissolution, liquidation, winding up and distribution (the “Plan of Dissolution”) on this date. Harvest’s stockholders approved the proposed dissolution and liquidation at the special meeting on February 23, 2017.

Under the dissolution, liquidation and winding up process, which remains subject to the control of the Board and company management, the proceeds from the Gabon transaction would be combined with other Harvest assets to be distributed to Harvest’s stockholders, subject to the payment of certain costs and expenses. The company currently expects to commence dissolution proceedings as soon as practicable after the closing of the sale of its Gabon interests.

Distributions to Shareholders

The Board intends to declare a distribution payable to the shareholders after the Gabon transaction has closed. The exact amount of the distribution has not been determined at this time. Once the record date is set, the company will disclose the proposed distribution.

***

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.

***

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.

***

PDVSA Says It Maintains Full Ownership of Citgo

(Energy Analytics Institute, Ian Silverman, 25.Dec.2016) – PDVSA maintains full ownership and control over its Houston-based subsidiary Citgo Petroleum Corporation.

PDVSA, in an official statement, also downplayed media versions and comments emitted by persons it claims are only interested in generating political instability in Venezuela based on speculation, rumors and biased information in an attempt to discredit the company.

In October, PDVSA used a 50.1 percent interest in Citgo as a guarantee for bond swap operations and the remaining 49.9 percent interest in its U.S.-based refining subsidiary as a guarantee to raise new financing, according to the statement.

Redd Intelligence, on November 30, uncovered a Delaware Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) filing and broke initial news regarding the filing against Citgo parent PDV Holding, Inc. that revealed Venezuela had secretly mortgaged its Citgo refineries in the U.S. to Russia’s state-controlled oil company Rosneft.

***

Executive Profile: YPF New CEO Ricardo Darré

(Energy Analytics Institute, Jared Yamin, 6.Jun.2016) – Ricardo Darré will assume the position of CEO at YPF on July 1, 2016, taking over the helm from the interim CEO.

Darré graduated from the Buenos Aires Technology Institute (ITBA by its Spanish acronym) with a specialization in mechanical and industrial engineering, reported the daily newspaper La Nacion.

After finishing university he worked for Schlumberger in Angola, Zaire in the Neuquén basin.

In 1987, he began work with Total, where he has worked until now. With Total he worked in Tierra del Fuego, France and Thailand in various roles related to offshore exploration.

From 1998, he started to assume roles related to operations in Norway, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and the United States.

Currently, he continues to work as managing director of Exploration and Production with Total in Houston, Texas.

***

Harvest Receives Continued Notice Listing From NYSE

(Harvest Natural Resources, Inc., 29.Apr.2016) — Harvest Natural Resources, Inc. announced that, on April 25, 2016, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) notified the company that it had fallen below the NYSE’s continued listing standards, which provide that an NYSE-listed company is not in compliance if its average global market capitalization over a consecutive 30 trading-day period is less than $50 million and, at the same time, its stockholders’ equity is less than $50 million.

As required by NYSE rules, the company has notified the NYSE that, within 45 days of receipt of the NYSE’s notice, the company will submit a business plan that demonstrates its ability to regain compliance within 18 months. The NYSE will either accept the business plan, at which time the company will be subject to quarterly monitoring for compliance with the plan, or will not accept the plan. If the company fails to comply with the business plan or the NYSE does not accept the plan, the NYSE may commence suspension and delisting procedures.

The company’s business operations, securities reporting requirements and debt obligations are unaffected by the NYSE’s notice.

***

PDVSA Output to Likely Fall in Default Scenario

(Energy Analytics Institute, Piero Stewart, 14.Sep.2015) – In terms of a much talked about default, PDVSA would continue to function but the levels of output will likely decline due to a lack of investment and could see an increase in accidents at the company, said EnergyNomics President Carlos Rossi in an interview in Houston, Texas.

New projects will never advance while companies will make minimal necessary investments in producing projects and suppliers will likely move to a cash-basis ‘cascade scheme’, said Rossi.

Venezuela has already defaulted internally and not exterally yet. With oil prices at $50/bbl or below the country could theoretically have inflation somewhere between 140-150%, while with oil prices at $50/bbl or above the country could theoretically have inflation somewhere between 80-100% inflation, concluded Rossi.

***

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.

***

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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Ecuador Open Market Meetings in Houston

(Energy Analytics Institute, Ian Silverman, 25.Jun.2013) – PetroEcuador holds open market committee meetings in Houston, Texas.

Highlights from the discussion follow:

Comments from PetroEcuador International Commerce Executive Nilsen Arias:

  • “Oil’s contribution to the energy matrix was 85% in 2010, but will fall to 65-70% in 2013.”
  • “Demand for gasoline, diesel and naphtha to exceed production.”
  • Feb.2014 will mark the turnover of Las Esmeraldas refinery which will allow it to produce clean fuels.
  • Ecuador does not have refining capacity to produce LPG, diesel, naphtha, which are imported.
  • LPG imports used for domestic cooking in Ecuador.
  • Cutterstock used for produce fuel oil in Ecuador.
  • Ecuador imports high octane naphtha and ultra-low diesel.

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Venezuela Seizes Helmerich & Payne Rigs

(TulsaWorld, Rod Walton, 2.Jul.2010) – The action comes amid a payment dispute in which the company left the equipment idle.

Helmerich & Payne’s 52-year business relationship with Venezuela came to at least a temporary end Thursday as President Hugo Chavez’s government seized 11 rigs owned by the Tulsa contract drilling company.

The conventional drilling rigs have been idle since last year because Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the national oil company, has not paid Helmerich & Payne Inc. for work, H&P has said.

The company says PDVSA owes it about $43 million. The amount owed once exceeded $100 million.

Venezuela had threatened to seize the rigs since last week, saying that “forced acquisition” was necessary because Helmerich & Payne would not put the equipment back to work.

H&P’s “long-lived” assets in Venezuela are valued at about $67 million, the company’s spokesman Mike Drickamer said in an e-mailed response to the Tulsa World.

The seized rigs make up all of H&P’s equipment in Venezuela.

CEO Hans Helmerich and other company executives initially downplayed the impasse, saying they simply wanted to be paid for past work. Venezuela’s National Assembly and Chavez followed through with the threat by issuing an official decree earlier this week.

Venezuela has been a financial thorn in the side of several companies in recent years.

Williams Cos. Inc. of Tulsa, a natural gas producer, lost two joint-venture compression plants to seizure last year and also was forced to take a $241 million write-down on its books because of nonpayment.

ConocoPhillips, the integrated oil giant with significant offices in Bartlesville, lost multibillion-dollar joint venture projects to seizure by PDVSA. The Houston company later sought international arbitration over the compensation offered by Venezuela.

Citgo, a Houston marketing and retail company once based in Tulsa, is the U.S. wing of the Venezuelan state oil industry.

Helmerich & Payne had no further comment.

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