Fire hits PDVSA's Cardon refinery, gasoline output halted

(Reuters) - A fire hit the catalytic cracking unit at Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA’s 310,000 barrel-per-day Cardon refinery on Monday, Falcon state Governor Victor Clark said, while two people familiar with the matter said gasoline output was halted.

The unit stopped working around noon, less than a month after it restarted with the help of equipment imported from Venezuela’s ally Iran, according to the sources, threatening an aggravation of fuel shortages that have plagued the South American country for months.

Clark added that the fire was quickly controlled and that there were no injuries.

Catalytic cracking units are crucial for the production of finished fuel in most refineries. Cardon had been producing between 15,000 and 30,000 bpd of gasoline since restarting in mid-June, according to three people with knowledge of the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The rest of Venezuela’s 1.3 million bpd refining network is mostly offline. The country received several fuel shipments from Iran in late May and early June, but has not imported gasoline since then. Efforts to restart gasoline output at the 146,000 bpd El Palito refinery have not yet been successful.

U.S. prosecutors last week filed a lawsuit to seize gasoline aboard four vessels Iran is trying to send to Venezuela.

PDVSA did not respond to a request for comment on gasoline output at Cardon.

Reporting by Mircely Guanipa in Maracay, Venezuela, and Marianna Parraga in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Tibisay Romero in Valencia, Venezuela, Writing by Luc Cohen, Editing by Chris Reese and Tom Brown