* Four upgraders were at 70 pct a month ago
* PDVSA says Venezuela oil production to rise
* Sees overall output of 3.04 million bpd by year-end (Adds further comments from Leon, background on production, paragraphs 4-10)
By Marianna Parraga
MATURIN, Venezuela, June 2 (Reuters) - The four oil upgraders in Venezuela’s Orinoco heavy crude belt are running at about 513,000 barrels per day (bpd) or 82 percent of capacity, up from 70 percent a month ago, an official said on Wednesday.
The upgraders convert tar-like oil from fields adjoining the northern edge of the Orinoco River into exportable crude. Three of the facilities had to be stopped last year due to faults,
“The situation is normal. Production at the four upgraders is some 513,000 bpd,” Pedro Leon, a director at state oil company PDVSA, told reporters on the sidelines of a heavy crude conference in the OPEC country’s eastern city of Maturin.
He said Venezuela would boost its oil output this year.
“We are going to plan production optimization in order to recover ... there are nearly 190 drills now active, which will obviously have an impact on production. We are going to be gradually recovering towards the end of the year,” Leon said.
Last month, President Hugo Chavez said oil production would rise “gradually” in 2010, then more next year. [ID:nN23209959]
PDVSA puts current production at 2.94 million bpd, while some international energy organizations give a lower estimate.
Leon said between 80,000-150,000 bpd would be added this year, bringing the total to about 3.04 million bpd by the end of 2011. PDVSA hopes to add 60,000 bpd from the Orinoco this year through the revival and maintenance of existing fields.
Long term, Venezuela has signed up to several projects with foreign companies to exploit the vast area. [ID:nN02142183]
After months of inactivity, PDVSA has recently revived efforts to look for materials and teams to set up maintenance and service contracts aimed at increasing production from traditional oil fields, especially in the east of the country.
Heavy rains late on Tuesday shut down one unit at the Orinoco’s Petrocedenno upgrader, causing a gas emission to neighboring facilities and communities, but the unit was fixed early on Wednesday, Petrocedenno President Luis Marquez said.
He said the upgrader was running at 60 percent of its capacity during scheduled maintenance of its vacuum unit that is due to last another 20 days. PDVSA, Norway’s Statoil (STL.OL) and France’s Total (TOTF.PA) are currently producing some 120,000 bpd of upgraded crude at Petrocedenno.
PDVSA blames last year’s stoppages at the units, which were built in the 1990s and nationalized in 2007, on old equipment inherited from former owners, inadequate pre-nationalization maintenance and design hitches. [ID:nN17195241]
President Hugo Chavez expelled Exxon (XOM.N) and Conoco Phillips (COP.N) from the Orinoco upgrader projects for refusing to accept a minority stake under nationalization. (Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by David Gregorio)