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PdV maximizes Orinoco oil flows, delays upgrading
20 Apr 2015, 2.19 pm GMT
Caracas, 20 April (Argus) — Venezuela´s state-owned PdV and some of its foreign partners are working to maximize early production up to 500,000 b/d from new joint venture projects in the Orinoco extra-heavy oil belt, pushing back the bulk of investment envisioned in a long-term $144bn development plan.
The ambitious official plan would generate 2.49mn b/d of production from seven new joint venture projects in the Junin and Carabobo sections of the 63,000km2 oil belt, known in Spanish as the Faja.
The new Orinoco projects form the backbone of PdV´s 2019 target of 6mn b/d, from a current 2.85mn b/d that includes more than 800,000 b/d from the Faja that is upgraded or blended at the Jose industrial complex on the Caribbean coast.
PdV says current overall Orinoco production of 1.34mn b/d will climb to 1.48mn b/d by the end of 2015.
In a press tour of the Faja last week, PdV chief executive Eulogio del Pino said Venezuela´s total production will exceed 3mn b/d by the end of the year, mostly from the Faja. Of this amount, around 2.45mn b/d will be exported, with 500,000-550,000 b/d earmarked for the domestic market.
Under the official plan, six of the new Orinoco projects would use upgraders at a planned industrial complex in Carabobo, while a seventh would be linked to a new 350,000 b/d refinery to be built between the existing upgraders in Jose.
None of PdV´s seven new joint ventures has taken a final investment decision. But early production, which began with a trickle in 2012, has grown quickly in recent months to reach a current total of around 50,000 b/d, according to Ruben Figuera, board member of PdV´s CVP division that runs the projects.
The production is diluted with 30pc imported naphtha to create diluted crude oil (DCO). Most of the DCO is transported via pipeline from the oil belt to four existing upgraders at Jose, which PdV now runs as an integrated business unit since their 2007 nationalization. The naphtha is de-topped and shipped back to the oil belt for reuse in a closed loop.
Faced with limited access to financing and reluctance to invest among some of its partners, PdV is promoting plans to augment Orinoco output without building more upgraders right away.
Less costly blending with light crude, a model spearheaded by the 140,000 b/d Sinovensa joint venture between PdV and China´s state-owned CNPC, is gaining favor among some senior PdV officials.
From a market perspective, the strategy implies that Venezuela will become a regular importer of light crude for blending with extra-heavy crude, while altering the structure of exports to focus on 16˚API Merey crude that suits its Chinese and Indian clients.
PdV already exports about 550,000 b/d to China, mostly in exchange for oil-backed loans, and 360,000-400,000 b/d to India´s Reliance and Essar.
The strategy also reflects changing market dynamics in the US, Venezuela´s traditional market, where Venezuelan light grades such as 32˚API Zuata Sweet synthetic crude from the upgraders have lost market share to growing US light crude from shale deposits.
Venezuela´s own light crude production, including 30˚API Mesa and 39˚API Santa Barbara from aging fields in PdV´s eastern division, has been declining. PdV´s eastern basin holds just 6.5bn of remaining proven reserves, compared with an eye-popping 270bn bl from the Faja, the world´s largest oil deposit.
Plans to debottleneck the Jose upgraders will enable PdV and its partners to inject a total of up to 140,000 b/d of early Orinoco production into the system without building new upgraders, Figuera said.
The first upgrader scheduled for debottlenecking is PetroMonagas, which upgrades DCO from the prolific Carabobo section of the Faja to 16˚API. The project will begin in February 2016 and wrap up in October 2016, when the unit will undergo 60 days of maintenance. The debottlenecking will raise DCO throughput in PetroMonagas from 157,800 b/d to 187,500 b/d, extra-heavy crude throughout from 120,000 b/d to 145,000 b/d and synthetic crude output from 108,000 b/d to 130,000 b/d.
PetroMonagas, formerly known as Cerro Negro before the nationalization when ExxonMobil was a 41.67pc partner, is now a joint venture between PdV (83.3pc) and Russia´s state-controlled Rosneft (16.7pc).
Beyond optimizing the existing upgraders, PdV is looking to import light crude through the Orinoco river channel to blend with extra-heavy crude. For the three new Carabobo projects, PdV plans to re-build a terminal at Punta Cuchillo, the Atlantic outlet of the Orinoco river. The terminal was originally built by ExxonMobil a century ago and later dismantled by PdV because of an environmental risk. "With the Punta Cuchillo strategy we can grow from these projects to 300,000 b/d of extra-heavy crude without an upgrader," Figuera said.
The Orinoco channel has a capacity to handle Panamax tankers, he said.
The three 400,000 b/d Carabobo projects that could utilize the Orinoco channel to augment early production are PetroVictoria, PetroCarabobo and PetroIndependencia.
PetroVictoria is a joint venture between PdV with 60pc and Rosneft with 40pc. PetroCarabobo, considered the most advanced, is led by PdV with 71pc. Its partners are Spain´s Repsol with 11pc, India´s ONGC Videsh with 11pc and Indian Oil and Oil India with 3.5pc apiece.
PdV holds 60pc of 400,000 b/d PetroIndependencia. Its partners are Chevron with 34pc, Japan´s Inpex and Mitsubishi with a combined 5pc and local firm Suelopetrol 1pc.
For the four new Junin projects, PdV plans to build a naphtha stripper and blending unit to handle 200,000 b/d, similar to the Sinovensa model.
"So 200,000 b/d from Junin, 300,000 b/d from Carabobo, 500,000 b/d of growth without any upgrader and without any commitment," Figuera said.
The Junin projects include PetroJunin (PdV 60pc, Eni 40pc); PetroUrica (PdV 60pc, CNPC 40pc), PetroMacareo (PdV 60pc, PetroVietnam 40pc) and PetroMiranda (PdV 60pc, Rosneft 32pc and Gazprom 8pc).
PetroVietnam recently indicated that it plans to withdraw from the PetroMacareo project.
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