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Venezuela cuts US fuel imports as the Amuay refinery re-started

Last August, 39 people were killed and the refinery was badly damaged after an explosion, forcing the plant to close

Venezuela's new president Nicolas Maduro faces a long list of challenges in the oil industry and at state-run oil company PdV. But he has received one piece of good news this month: the country’s imports of refined fuel products from the US plunged in February as the Amuay refinery re-started production.

Venezuelan imports of petroleum products fell to 54,266 barrels a day (b/d) in February, down nearly 75% from a peak of more than 200,000 b/d in December, according to data from the US Energy Information Administration. Gasoline imports fell particularly sharply, declining 95% from around 116,000 b/d in January to just 6,166 b/in February.

An explosion at the Amuay refinery last August killed 39 people and badly damaged the plant, Venezuela’s largest, forcing its closure. To meet its domestic fuel needs, the country increased imports from US Gulf Coast refiners. This has been a drag on state-run oil company PdV’s finances, as it had to buy the products at international prices and sell into the domestic market, where gasoline is heavily subsidised. The gasoline subsidy cost the country $27 billion in 2011, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated.

The rapid fall in imports indicates Venezuela’s refineries are slowly getting back to pre-accident levels. That is welcome news for Maduro and PdV’s management, as it will take some of the financial pressure off the state oil company.

It could yet be some time before Venezuela’s refining sector fully recovers though. The IEA said in its most recent Oil Market Report that Venezuela would see a “gradual return to prior processing levels by July at the earliest”. The report added that “problems in restarting key units such as the flexicoker could further delay the return to normal operations”. The IEA estimates the 955,000 b/d CRP refining complex, which includes the Amuay refinery, is only producing at around 60% of its capacity. So, imports from the US have fallen, but Venezuela is likely to remain reliant on its neighbour to the north for fuel for some time.

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