Maduro regime manages to restart catalytic cracker at El Palito refinery

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Maduro is under intense pressure due to severe gasoline shortages and rationing, which the regime hopes to alleviate with the restart of the El Palito cat cracker. Photo: PDVSA.

After several months of trying, workers at the El Palito refinery, located on the coast of the Central Venezuelan state of Carabobo, managed to put the catalytic cracker (FCC) of the said plant back into operation on Friday, April 10.

Gasoline protests are now normal in Venezuela, the country with the largest oil reserves, with almost every gas station with long lines that can last for days. On Sunday, April 12, Maduro promised that the gasoline problem will be fixed but did not say the FCC at El Palito had restarted.

El Palito has a total capacity to process some 140,000 barrels a day, with its FCC able to provide about half of that, some 70,000 b/d, according to PDVSA figures. 

However, in the best-case scenario for the restart, with the FCC now up, El Palito will be able to produce between 35,000 to 40,000 barrels of gasoline a day, so it will all -refinery and restarted FCC- be working well below capacity.

Gasoline crisis

The Nicolas Maduro regime imposed a severe gasoline rationing to try and overcome a shortage in fuels it said is caused by U.S sanctions but which critics ascribe to decades of corruption and mismanagement at PDVSA refineries.

According to a February report by the Oil Companies’ Chamber, only 20% of PDVSA’s in-country refining capacity of 1.5 million barrels a day-plus is operational.

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Oil industry sources said PDVSA was cannibalizing other refineries to get gasoline flowing at El Palito, and so reduce political pressure on Maduro. The regime is only providing gasoline to its police and military, with the rest of Venezuelan motorists being told just to stay home on account of the Coronavirus.

Internal sources at the refinery indicated that the start-up process was supervised by the sectorial vice-president for the economic area, Tarek El Aissami, who during a visit to the El Palito refinery traveled along the Sanchon river and verified that the tributary that feeds the PDVSA plant in Puerto Cabello is now seasonally dry.

To make up for the lack of water, which is vital in the refining process, the arrival of a ship with millions of liters of water, and another ship with additives for the production of gasoline was announcing.

Fluid Catalytic Cracking (FCC) is one of the most important conversion processes in the oil refining industry. That plant was paralyzing due to lack of maintenance and spare parts but some parts (spare parts) were adding to it, taken from the Paraguana Refining Center, in neighboring Falcon state, and brought to the El Palito refinery, according to national leaders of the United Federation of Oil Workers of Venezuela last week.    

Luis Daniel Gonzalez, assistant manager of the El Palito refinery, sent an internal memo to the staff: Congratulations to all the operators, with wisdom and understanding they made it possible to start up the plant.

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