PdVSA says Amuay refinery can restart within days


CARACAS -- Top officials from Venezuelan state oil monopoly Petroleos de Venezuela, or PdVSA, said Tuesday the country’s largest refinery, which was mostly shut down after a deadly explosion last weekend, could fully restart operations once it is deemed safe.

Some processing units unrelated to the storage tanks that were set ablaze for three days could restart as soon as Wednesday, Jesus Luongo, a PdVSA director, told reporters at the 640,000 bpd Amuay refinery, where a gas-leak blast early Saturday killed 48 people.

While authorities have yet to give a full assessment of damage and repair costs, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said the site was insured and the government has begun the process of seeking compensation.

Mr. Ramirez also said exports wouldn't be affected by the accident and guaranteed domestic fuel supplies wouldn't be disrupted.

“Once we determine we are in [the right] conditions, we will take our time proceeding plant by plant, putting the refinery back into operation” Mr. Luongo, who is in charge of the Paraguana Refining Complex that holds Amuay, said earlier on state television.

Officials had been saying that Amuay could return to normal operations in two days. Union officials have said the plant was operating well below capacity, and Mr. Ramirez earlier this year acknowledged the Paraguana complex, as a whole, was operating at 79% capacity.

Mr. Luongo said “while the majority of processing plants were stopped, some have been working since the event, dispatching fuel without problems.”

The Amuay disaster has cast a spotlight on management of the nationalized oil industry under President Hugo Chavez, who is seeking a third six-year term in the Oct. 7 election.

Critics say the leftist government has shortchanged investments into maintenance as it uses large chunks of PdVSA’s income to finance state social programs.

Opposition assemblyman Hiram Gaviria said Tuesday the government should order a congressional panel to investigate the refinery accident and question Mr. Ramirez.

Mr. Gaviria, speaking on television station Globovision, said the government shouldn't “cover up” what has happened like it was accused of doing after other disasters, including a 2010 scandal in which imported food shipments were left to rot and an oil spill earlier this year in Monagas state.

“In each of these events there is a common denominator: Minister Rafael Ramirez.”

But Mr. Chavez saw no fault in Mr. Ramirez's management, congratulating him and other PdVSA officials on putting the fire out.

“Rafael, feel proud,” Mr. Chavez said during a televised meeting with cabinet members, adding that Mr. Ramirez had done everything that needed to be done.

Last week, Mr. Chavez appointed the oil minister to continue serving in his position for another six years.

Dow Jones Newswires

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