HOUSTON/PUNTO FIJO (Reuters) - Three of Venezuela’s four refineries are working at record lows due to equipment malfunctioning and lack of crude and spare parts, according to PDVSA internal reports seen by Reuters on Wednesday and workers from the facilities.
The Paraguana Refining Center, which includes Venezuela’s Cardon and Amuay refineries, was processing 409,000 barrels per day (bpd) as of Monday, or 43 percent of its installed capacity of 955,000 bpd, according to the data.
Venezuela’s third largest refinery, the 187,000-barrel-per-day Puerto la Cruz, is operating at minimum levels due to problems at two of its three distillation units, said union leader Jose Bodas and a worker who asked not to be identified.
State oil company PDVSA did not respond to an email seeking comment.
The current processing levels at the main refineries are similar to 2012, when a severe explosion that killed more than 40 people at Amuay significantly reduced operations at PDVSA’s main facilities, forcing the company to import fuels.
Even though PDVSA is not dealing with an accident this time, its refineries have slowly cut production rates due to a combination of lack of light crudes to process, delays to import spare parts and long maintenance work, the workers said.
The problems have particularly affected crude units as oil has been diverted away from some PDVSA’s refineries to pay foreign debts, the workers said, leaving insufficient feedstock for distillation.
PDVSA’s supply program for May confirmed that operational issues at Puerto la Cruz’ distillation plants have forced the company to cancel its jet fuel exports from that facility this month.
Several key operational units such as Puerto la Cruz’s fluid catalytic cracker and Cardon’s hydrotreating, hydrodesulfurization and lubricants units are also inactive, according to the data and the workers.
Lack of spare parts to repair plants receiving maintenance and malfunctioning of industrial services such as steam supply have contributed to the problems, Bodas said.
Only Venezuela’s smallest refinery, El Palito, has its main units working. Its catalytic cracker and an alkylation plant resumed operations in April.
PDVSA’s refining woes have increased its need for fuel imports in recent months. The company last week launched tenders on the open market to import at least 1.88 million barrels of refined products for Venezuela’s domestic market in May.
The purchases includes gasoline blend stock and MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether), an additive for gasoline. It also requested four cargoes of U.S. crude for May.
Reporting by Marianna Parraga in Houston and Mircely Guanipa in Punto Fijo; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Leslie Adler