Venezuela Oil Fields
Back In State Control

By Jorge Rueda
Forbes Magazine

Venezuelan oil minister Rafael Ramirez on Sunday applauded the return of state control over 32 privately operated oil fields with the start of the new year.
Ramirez said in a statement that Venezuela has successfully completed "the recovery" of the 32 fields whose control was ceded to private hands in the 1990s under concessions allowing companies to independently pump oil under contract.
A deadline to agree to convert those operating agreements into joint ventures in which the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) will hold a controlling stake expired at midnight on Dec. 31.
The 32 operating agreements were signed between 1990 and 1997 during the opening of Venezuela's petroleum industry to private and foreign capital. The objective at the time - when the price of crude was below $10 a barrel - was to increase production at low-priority oil fields which were closed due to their location or a lack of resources, and which PDVSA had no plans to reactivate using its own resources.
As oil prices crept back up in recent years, the government of President Hugo Chavez has sought to boost its control and share of profits from the oil industry. In 2001, it passed a new law requiring oil production to be carried out by companies majority-owned by the government.
The government had threatened to reclaim oil fields from companies that refused to sign the so-called transitional joint-venture agreements, which will later be converted into permanent agreements with PDVSA.
Chevron Corp., BP PLC, Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Brazil's state oil company Petrobras SA were among those that signed earlier.
Spanish-Argentine firm Repsol YPF was the last to sign earlier this week after acquiring Exxon Mobil Corp.'s stake in the Quiamare-La Ceiba oil field. Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil had resisted the contract changes, which will significantly reduce the oil companies' share of profits and control over operations and could also undermine the value of their Venezuelan assets.
The state's stake could be as much as 90 percent in the new ventures. The amount the private companies have invested in the fields will determine the amount of control they have, Ramirez has said.
The 32 oil fields have been responsible for about 500,000 of Venezuela's official declared production of 3.2 million barrels a day.
Venezuela is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter and has the largest proven reserves outside of the Mideast.




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