June 26, 2018 / 8:46 PM / 3 months ago

Venezuela's Petropiar oil upgrader begins restart after repairs, fire

(Reuters) - Venezuela’s PDVSA [PDVSA.UL] and Chevron have begun to restart their 210,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) Petropiar heavy crude upgrader after a nearly month-long, repair-related shutdown and a fire, according to the state-run company and two sources close to the facility.

Venezuela’s crude upgraders, which can convert near 700,000 bpd of extra-heavy crude from the country’s Orinoco Belt into exportable grades, have been mostly out of service in recent weeks while PDVSA focused on easing a tanker backlog that has delayed exports.

The country’s oil production fell to 1.39 million bpd in May, according to secondary sources cited by OPEC, the lowest level since the 1950s. Oil is Venezuela’s main export and the decline has only served to deepen an already severe economic crisis.

Workers attempted to restart Petropiar earlier in June, but quality issues that were ultimately solved delayed the process, one of the sources said. The restart typically takes several days to be completed while the upgrader’s performance is evaluated.

A fire early on Tuesday at one of the upgrader’s furnaces left one worker injured, but had no material impact on operations, PDVSA said in a statement.

“The event was immediately controlled,” the company said in the statement, adding that crude production and upgrading were not directly affected by the fire.

If Petropiar fully restarts in the coming days, the neighboring 190,000-bpd Petrocedeno facility would be the only upgrader completely shut for maintenance while the 160,000-bpd Petro San Felix complex works intermittently, according to the sources.

But the 150,000-bpd Petromonagas, operated by PDVSA and Russia’s Rosneft, is expected to be out of service later this month due to a planned major maintenance project.

Reduced crude upgrading means PDVSA and its partners in the Orinoco Belt, the country’s largest producing region, have to mix Diluted Crude Oil (DCO) for export, but the volume of the replacement grade is typically lower.

That could help to ease a bottleneck of tankers waiting to transport oil exports. As of June 26, there were more than 75 tankers anchored off Venezuelan ports waiting to load some 24 million barrels of crude and refined products, according to Thomson Reuters vessel tracking data, near flat from earlier this month.

Reporting by Deisy Buitrago, Mircely Guanipa and Marianna Parraga; editing by Susan Thomas and G Crosse

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