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Venezuela's Amuay oil refinery affected by explosion

04 July 2013

A small explosion and fire hit the flexicoker unit of Venezuela's 645,000 barrel per day Amuay refinery on June 3, but no one was hurt and firemen brought the blaze under control. Reuters reports the oil workers union at the huge facility saying the flexicoker unit had been stopped a day earlier due to a fault.

"A pipeline broke and caused an explosion and fire, which is now under control. The (flexicoker) plant was stopped yesterday because of a fault in its compressor," said Ivan Freites, president of the workers union at the refinery.

State oil company PDVSA confirmed the small explosion and said the fire had been extinguished. It said no one had been hurt.

Last week an internal report by PDVSA showed that Amuay, Venezuela's biggest refinery, had returned to operating at its normal level, 10 months after an explosion that killed more than 40 people.

The facility has had problems at various units since the blast, including at its flexicoker plant.

The internal report said 10 of Amuay's 51 plants were out of action, including its lubricants plant. The refinery's biggest distillation unit, no. 5, restarted in April after being badly damaged in August's deadly explosion.

Mercopress said the incident at Amuay last year and escalating problems at its other refineries caused Venezuela to become a net importer of gasoline in 2012. Venezuela exported 30,000 barrels per day (bpd) of gasoline and naphtha last year, according to state oil company PDVSA’s annual report. But it imported an average of 66,300bpd of the same fuels from the US alone, according to US energy department data.

Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez has consistently denied that the country is importing finished gasoline, insisting the purchases have been limited to blending components. But data provided by the US Energy Information Administration, or EIA, shows most of the imports between September and January from the US were finished gasoline and diesel.

Crude exporters in the region including Mexico and Ecuador depend on energy markets to meet fuel needs because of insufficient investment in refining.
Venezuelans enjoy a massive fuel subsidy that makes gasoline the cheapest in the world, letting drivers fill their tanks for less than the equivalent of a dollar. That spurs fuel smuggling to neighbouring Colombia and Brazil.

In addition, the government is installing diesel generators to reduce dependence on hydroelectric power, which has increased demand for diesel.

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