Top Venezuela refineries at 34 percent of capacity: union, documents

PUNTO FIJO, Venezuela/HOUSTON (Reuters) - Venezuela’s main refining complex, hobbled by a lack of oil and maintenance issues, is down to operating at about a third of its 955,000-barrel-per-day capacity, according to a union official and documents from the state-run oil company PDVSA.

The Paraguana Refining Center, home to the Amuay and Cardon refineries along Venezuela’s western coast, has reduced output repeatedly in recent months, contributing to intermittent fuel shortages in the South American OPEC nation.

PDVSA had planned for Paraguana to process 385,000 bpd this month, according to internal company documents seen by Reuters. But it is currently operating at 34 percent of capacity and output is likely to come in well below the October target.

The complex had been operating at 42 percent of capacity in August.

Low utilization rates at several refineries in Venezuela and Mexico could raise the prospects for higher U.S. fuel exports, according to a report by energy investment firm Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co, which expects U.S. gasoline and distillate inventories to end 2017 at levels below the last two years.

Amuay’s crude distillation unit No. 3, paralyzed by a lack of oil since mid-September, is now offline for maintenance, the union official said.

“(Paraguana) is receiving unfit crude that cannot be processed at the distillation units,” said Ivan Freites, a union representative at Paraguana.

The PDVSA documents show that Amuay has been trying to process a larger volume of upgraded and blended oil from the Orinoco Belt, which is typically exported. But that is a tall task for an outdated facility affected by power outages and lack of spare parts.

Only two from five distillation units are currently working at Amuay, which is processing some 210,000 bpd of crude from 270,000 bpd planned for October, Freites said.

An oil worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the Amuay production figure.

In the neighboring Cardon facility, two of four distillation units are currently out of service, reducing processing to about 115,000 bpd, according to Freites.

The PDVSA documents showed that Cardon’s distillation unit No. 2 was offline for repairs and not scheduled to restart this month.

Paraguana’s production of finished products has also been affected by the poor condition of the refinery, hurting inventories and distribution to gas stations, according to Freites. He said the fluid catalytic cracker at Amuay was processing some 70,000 bpd while Cardon’s FCC was processing about 50,000 bpd.

PDVSA has ramped up fuel imports even amid cash flow problems. But payments to providers have been slow, affecting the arrival of tankers. At least six fuel cargoes for PDVSA were recently diverted due to payment delays.

Reporting by Mircely Guanipa in Punto Fijo, Venezuela and Marianna Parraga in Houston; Editing by David Gregorio and Tom Brown