Curacao oil refinery resumes work after eight-month stoppage

FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the Isla refinery in Willemstad on the island of Curacao, April 22, 2018. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

(Reuters) - Curacao’s 335,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) Isla refinery has resumed work, management of the government-owned facility said on Tuesday, after eight months of paralysis caused by a dispute between its operator, Venezuela’s PDVSA, and U.S. producer ConocoPhillips.

Isla, which has been looking for a new operator to run the refinery beginning at the end of this year, restarted one of its crude distillation units and its thermal cracker, it said in a statement.

“Both units are producing gasoil and fuel oil,” it added.

The plant suffered a fire early last year and fell idle after ConocoPhillips brought legal actions against PDVSA over a $2-billion arbitration award linked to the nationalization of Conoco’s projects in Venezuela. The U.S. company got court orders temporarily seizing PDVSA’s cargoes and terminals across the Caribbean.

The parties reached a payment agreement in August. Conoco said seized assets would be released following the reception of the first installment, which was received in the fourth quarter.

The long paralysis of the island facility, which is crucial for PDVSA’s crude blending, storage and shipping operations, spurred the government of the Caribbean island, which owns the refinery, to start a process to choose a new operator.

Houston-based Motiva Enterprises [MOTIV.UL], a subsidiary of Saudi Aramco, was chosen in December as preferred bidder to operate the refinery, according to local media, but the government has yet to confirm the decision.

Isla’s management said the restart process took longer than expected due to its lengthy paralysis. The utility company providing power and other industrial services to the refinery also struggled to resume supply.

Isla declined to comment on the status of the bidding process.

Reporting by Sailu Urribarri; editing by Marianna Parraga and Tom Brown