Analysis: Caracas mulls own 'Halliburton'

By CARMEN GENTILE, UPI Energy Correspondent   |   Aug. 15, 2007 at 1:43 PM
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MIAMI, Aug. 15 (UPI) -- Venezuela is keen on creating its own “Halliburton” to develop the country’s own fields and reduce dependency on foreign firms, Venezuelan oil officials said Tuesday.

"We can have our own Halliburton, ours, the Bolivarian one,” said Rafael Ramirez, Venezuela’s oil minister.

The new company, set to be created by state-run energy firm PDVSA, would allow the country to control oil extraction and production from beginning to end, he said.

“PDVSA Services,” as it was dubbed Tuesday, would also provide services to regional countries.

Venezuela’s pledge to improve its oil production follows a recent report that Latin America’s largest oil producer was suffering from equipment shortages responsible for waning production levels. Ramirez denied the country’s production levels have fallen off.

Last month Luis Vierma, exploration and production vice president at PDVSA, said Venezuelan oil faces a "significant operational emergency" if it does not increase the number of rigs operating in the country and that the state firm fell short of its 2007 goal of getting 191 rigs online in 2007 and producing some 3.3 million barrels per day.

So far, Vierma said, 112 rigs were online as of July, and by the end of the year their numbers would only likely increase to 120.

"Venezuela is moving toward technological independence, but it will take a long time," he said.

PDVSA's independence could take even longer considering Venezuela's oil output is believed to have slipped by more than 250,000 barrels per day from a year ago, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency. Production has reportedly decreased from 2.6 million bpd to 2.37 million bpd.

Some opposition lawmakers have accused Ramirez and others in PDVSA of corruption.

Hoping to counter the production shortfall, PDVSA announced recently it was investing $3.5 billion in new oil rigs, a much-needed injection of cash for improvements to a sector that some experts say has been abused by President Hugo Chavez for his social programs.

State energy officials’ concerns about “an operational emergency” could be a calculated effort to jump-start the oil sector, some analysts said.

“Recent statements by PDVSA officials declaring the company in ‘operational emergency’ seem to aim at legitimizing a fast-track procurement process that bypasses normal bidding rules,” read a July report by the New York-based Latin Source.

Meanwhile, the announcement of the creation of PDVSA Services follows a recent tour of the region by Chavez, who has pushed for greater energy integration in Latin America. This month alone he traveled to Ecuador, Uruguay, Bolivia and Argentina to bolster energy ties with the nations and said he would help several countries improve their oil refining capabilities.

The Argentina deal could be in jeopardy, though, amid a scandal involving a Venezuelan businessman found carrying $800,000 on a flight that landed in Buenos Aires.

Guido Antonini Wilson, a Venezuelan residing in Miami, was discovered with the money while traveling with Argentine and Venezuelan energy officials. While Chavez has denied any wrongdoing in the case and expressed hope it would not hamper proposed energy deals between PDVSA and Energia Argentina, Argentine President Nestor Kirchner fired the official who offered Antonini Wilson a seat on the plane and demanded that Chavez provide an explanation.



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