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Authorities to inspect Venezuelan refinery after explosion and fire that killed 48

30 August 2012

According to Mercopress on August 29, the Venezuelan authorities are carrying out an exhaustive inspection of the Amuay refinery before attempting to restart processing after finally extinguishing a fire caused by an explosion that killed 48 people and left hundreds homeless.

An independent report  has claimed that 100 fires occurred in 2011 at the Amuay refinery complex
An independent report has claimed that 100 fires occurred in 2011 at the Amuay refinery complex

“We’re carrying out a cooling process of all areas that suffered intense heat generated by the fire,” Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez told reporters. “Because we are dispatching, because we have sufficient storage, because we have all our plants in perfect shape, we have no need to hurry to re-activate an operation.” 

The state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), which owns the refinery, continues to export oil and petroleum products stored at Amuay’s dock and sees no disruption to its internal or external shipping obligations, Ramirez said.

Production may restart in two to three days, Jesus Luongo, head of the Paraguana refining complex said on state television on Tuesday. Strong winds could cause the fires to reignite and if that happens firemen will use foam to extinguish them, he said.

Amuay, which has the capacity to process 645,000 barrels a day, is part of the Paraguana complex 380 km west of Caracas. While Ramirez described the situation as “chaos with fires everywhere” when he first arrived on the scene Aug. 25, he said damage was limited to 9 of 686 storage tanks.

Venezuela has stockpiles of 4.2 million barrels of gasoline and other petroleum products and continues to produce 735,000 barrels of the motor fuel a day at plants, including nearby Cardon, according to Ramirez. PDVSA shipped five tankers carrying 876,000 barrels of crude from Paraguana on Aug. 26, he said on Tuesday.

“This gives us 10 days of inventory,” Ramirez said. “On top of that, the inventory presupposes you aren’t producing anything. There’s no way we can have a problem’.

Although the government strongly denies it, an independent March report from RJG Risk Engineering of London and circulated by CNN, points to a serious lack of maintenance at the Amuay refinery. The report also said 100 fires occurred in 2011 at the refinery complex.

The blast and fire at the refinery has been called the most lethal industry accident in Venezuela to date by analysts and comes at a time of other infrastructure problems, also apparently because of a lack of maintenance, including a bridge collapse in Caracas.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has said that such suggestions are “irresponsible” because investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the accident.

Earlier this year, an engineering firm's inspection of the giant Paraguana refinery complex in Falcon state, which includes the Amuay plant, found problems in major and routine maintenance, according to the March 2012 report prepared by RJG.

Major maintenance (turnarounds) has been seen to be suffering from delays, typically of one or two years,“ the report said. ”Routine maintenance suffered a significant 'low' in 2009, the effects of which are still being felt, evidenced by a marked increase in the ratio of corrective to preventive maintenance.”


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