By KEJAL VYAS
PUNTO FIJO -- A distillation unit at Venezuela's Amuay refinery was halted after a lightning strike caused a fire to break out, local union officials said.
The fire broke out at the 80,000 bpd unit's chimney moments after a heavy storm passed through the northwestern coastal region of the oil rich country, where Amuay is located.
A spokesman at state energy monopoly Petroleos de Venezuela (PdVSA) declined comment.
It's the latest incident to hit Venezuela's oil industry, which this week will see the one year anniversary of the deadly gas leak explosion at Amuay that left at least 42 people dead. Amuay, as well as other facilities, have been plagued by frequent accidents and outages, which have weighed on Venezuela's processing capacity.
Critics, including some local union leaders, charge that the problems are the result of insufficientmaintenance and faulty management, accusations that PdVSA officials deny.
In the months following the Amuay disaster, United States exports of crude oil and other products to Venezuela spiked to their highest levels on record, according to the United States Energy Information Administration.
The data shows exports of gasoline to Venezuela peaked at 113,000 bpd in January 2013.
Amuay has total processing capacity of 645,000 bpd and PdVSA says that the facility has recovered about 70% of its output after last year's accident, which resulted in severe damages to parts of the plant.
Dow Jones Newswires