Published On: Thu, Dec 6th, 2018

Curaçao selects US company to restart refinery

Oil refineryWILLEMSTAD - Curaçao has selected a US company as the preferred bidder for a long-term contract to run its oil refinery, stepping in before Venezuelan state-owned PdV's lease expires in December 2019.

RdK, the Curacao government company that owns the refinery, will negotiate with the unnamed company with the intention of signing a Memorandum of Understanding in January 2019. The name is known by Curaçao Chronicle but will be revealed when it has been confirmed 100 percent.

Depending on PdV's willingness to cooperate in the transition, a restart of the refinery could begin in mid-2019, according to a senior official close to the ongoing negotiations. This "early step-in" would mean the US company would overlap with the final months of PdV's operating lease.

The US company would likely require a temporary waiver from the US Treasury to work alongside PdV, which is subject to US sanctions.

Curaçao has been struggling to restart the refinery throughout 2018. PdV has stopped supplying crude and conducting maintenance at the facility, a consequence of its rapidly declining domestic oil production and financial straits. But the Venezuelan company continues to utilize the Bullen Bay terminal, which is also part of its long-term lease, for storage and export logistics.

Curacao is anxious to end its tumultuous relationship with PdV, whose extensive debts have triggered repeated court-ordered seizures of its oil cargoes and tankers across the Dutch Caribbean in recent years. In the most far-reaching case, US independent ConocoPhillips levied attachments on PdV's Dutch Caribbean assets in May, effectively freezing the oil business on the islands before a settlement was reached in August. But smaller creditors continue to pursue PdV cargoes in an effort to collect unpaid debts.

The restart of the refinery, which accounts for some 2,000 local jobs, will also depend on repairs to related utility services on the island.

The century-old refinery has a nameplate crude processing capacity of 330,000 b/d, but normally operated at around 220,000 b/d.

PdV has not commented on the Curacao refinery or the island's plan to bring on a new operator. Curaçao Chronicle has repeatedly requested interviews, even through third parties, but PdV is not responded to any of the inquiries.

The refinery talks are taking place amid an investigation into alleged bribery by one of the parties seeking the refinery contract from RdK, whose director was given a mandatory leave of absence.

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