By Irina Slav
A delay in port repairs following a tanker collision is putting additional pressure on already pressured Venezuelan crude oil exports, Reuters quoted anonymous sources close to PDVSA as saying this week. It seems that Venezuela’s woes are only multiplying as time goes by, although news from official Caracas sources seems more upbeat. Oil, however, appears at the forefront of Venezuela’s plight.
A dock at Venezuela’s biggest oil port, Jose, was closed in late August after a tanker collided with it. At the time, Reuters reported that the repairs would delay the delivery of 5 million barrels of crude, destined for Rosneft, which, according to the news outlet, could put a strain on relations between the Russian company and PDVSA, which have a money-for-oil agreement. This is only the latest in PDVSA’s troubles with its oil exports.
Besides a steady decline in production, Venezuela’s state-run oil company earlier this year ran into problems with its storage capacity and export terminals in the Caribbean as U.S.-based ConocoPhillips took an aggressive approach to enforcing a court ruling that awarded it US$2 billion in compensation for the forced nationalization of two projects in Venezuela. The company this summer seized several of PDVSA’s assets on Caribbean islands, which made it difficult for the Venezuelan state company to meet its export obligations. Having few options, PDVSA eventually caved, settling with Conoco.
Dock repairs are further complicating matters. PDVSA is supposed to deliver to Rosneft some 4 million bpd of crude under the latest bilateral agreement signed this April. On top of that, it normally exports crude for U.S. Valero Energy and Chevron from the same dock, the South dock of the Jose port, which is responsible for processing processes as much as 70 percent of the country’s crude oil exports.
Not to anyone’s surprise, the delay in resuming shipments is largely a result of insufficient funds, partially thanks to U.S. sanctions, which have essentially closed nearly completely the door to foreign funding. China, not bound by these restrictions, recently agreed to a US$5-billion lifeline for the Venezuelan government and its oil industry, but these billions will take time to become available. Given the multitude of problems that PDVSA is having, it would be a tough job to allocate these funds so that there is enough for everything.
Caracas is still not giving up. Just this week the government announced the official launch of the petro on international markets in hopes of offsetting the effects of U.S. sanctions by using this oil-and gold-backed cryptocurrency. President Nicolas Maduro said at the launch that the petro would be legal tender for everything in Venezuela, including as a substitute for the dollar.
“All Venezuelans will have access to the Petro and through it to make international purchases,” Maduro said.
Venezuela also plans to boost its oil exports to China as part of plans to transform its economy and get back on its feet. To this end, it will work with Chinese oil companies to improve production. Maduro said in July that PDVSA would boost oil production by 1 million bpd from June levels by the end of the year, although he admitted that this goal would be difficult to achieve. Venezuela pumped 1.45 million bpd in August, and the year-to-date average stands at 1.544 million bpd. This is a far cry from the figure from five years ago, when its daily average was 2.9 million bpd. It’s a matter of a short time to see if the petro and Chinese money will be enough to reverse the decline in production and exports.