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Venezuela President says 2012 refinery blast was sabotage

28 August 2013

President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela has said that the Amuay refinery disaster on 25 August 2012, which killed 42 and injured dozens more, was caused by sabotage carried out by political opponents. A serious of explosions and subsequent fire destroyed part of the refinery, as well as adjacent homes and businesses, and resulted in damage worth more than $2 billion.

Maduro said an “international investigation” had found that the incident was the product of "sabotage by desperate actors who believed that a refinery fire would help them win the elections against (late president Hugo) Chavez". The incident was initially blamed on a gas leak.

He did not say who carried out the investigation. In June, Maduro accused the opposition of being behind the blast on the basis of a probe by the government’s attorney general, but this is the first time he cited this new investigation.

There have been similar incidents at refineries in Venezuela in recent months, some of which have also been blamed on sabotage by the Government.

But the Wall Street Journal cited critics who claim that the government's claims lack proof and follow a pattern of blaming unnamed saboteurs for the woes of Venezuela's troubled oil industry, which has been unable to meet plans to raise output and has seen an increasing number of incidents in recent years.

"These accusations aren't new. Sabotage is their preferred word and they've been using it now for about 10 years," said Eddie Ramírez, head of Gente del Petroleo, an industry activist group that has accused state energy monopoly Petróleos de Venezuela (PdVSA) of being negligent with its maintenance standards. Officials from PdVSA deny charges of mismanagement.

According to an independent investigation by the Energy Orientation Center, a group of Venezuelan oil industry professionals and former PdVSA workers, refineries in Venezuela recorded 35 accidents ranging from spills to fires in the period from August 2012 to July 2013, compared with 174 incidents between 2003 and June 2012.

That same report found that PdVSA saw an average of 6.2 injuries on the job per one million work hours in 2012 compared with 0.5 by Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), also a state-owned monopoly oil and gas company.

On August 25 PdVSA said it had already launched a series of maintenance programmes costing $585 million at Amuay and Cardon, two of the country's largest plants with total processing capacity of 955,000 barrels a day.

The company says Amuay is now running at 70% of the output levels recorded before the explosion.

The Amuay blast left 3,400 homes damaged around the plant. The government says it is now working with consultants to set up security areas around the facilities and is also looking at relocating low-income housing nearby. Locals complain that smoke and gas engulfs the area around the refinery following the frequent incidents at the plant, according to the WSJ.

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