WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- The U.S. Energy Department said there was growing interest in the prospects for the Venezuelan oil sector given uncertainty about President Hugo Chavez' health.
Bolivian President Evo Morales said Tuesday that he had "good news" on the health of Chavez, who is receiving cancer treatment in Cuba. Chavez missed his own inauguration in early January because of declining health.
"Our brother, president-commander Hugo Chavez, is already doing physical therapy to return to his country," Morales was quoted by CNN as saying.
The U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration states that about 95 percent of Venezuela's crude oil exports to the United States wind up in refineries along the southern U.S. coast, making the United States the leading destination for Venezuelan crude oil.
"Although Venezuela remains an important source of crude for the United States, the volume of oil that the United States imports from Venezuela has declined over the past 15 years in conjunction with a more general decline in Venezuelan oil production," the EIA said.
The EIA said that Venezuelan oil production has declined steadily since Chavez took office in 1999. The country has yet to match its peak production level of 3 million barrels of oil per day since a December 2002 general strike.
"EIA estimated that Venezuela produced 2.2 million bpd of crude oil in 2012, although definitive numbers are unavailable," the agency said.