(Correct affiliation of government spokeswoman in paragraph 5)
By Marianna Parraga and Gary McWilliams
HOUSTON, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Venezuela’s PDVSA could lose its license to operate an oil storage terminal it owns on the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire if it does not soon fulfill maintenance demands by regulators, a government spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
The terminal is a key part of PDVSA’s logistics in the Caribbean, and its closing could hurt shipments to customers in Asia at a time when the OPEC-member country is desperate for export revenue. Reeling from low oil prices, high inflation and a four-year-long recession, the country last month proposed to restructure its $60 billion in debt.
Cash-strapped PDVSA, which provides the bulk of Venezuela’s export revenue, has struggled this year to retain contracts for storage tanks and docks in the Caribbean due to past payment delays and disagreements with U.S. firms Buckeye Partners and NuStar Energy, which operate terminals in the Bahamas and St. Eustatius.
In neighboring Bonaire, where PDVSA owns the Bonaire Petroleum Corp (BOPEC) terminal with a 10-million barrel storage capacity and deep water docks that can load large vessels, the firm recently received a warning from the Dutch government.
“We’ve given them an ultimatum to come up with a solid plan to ensure ... more secure and safe” operations by Jan. 5, Danielle Rebel, a spokeswoman for the Dutch Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT), said on Tuesday.
BOPEC has a backlog of items needed to achieve international standards, she said. If it does not deliver the plan and the funding requested by the ILT, it will have to start emptying the terminal in early February, she said, and cease operations.
Its operating license could ultimately be withdrawn, she added.
PDVSA did not respond to a request for comment.
The dispute between Bonaire and PDVSA started a year ago when a remediation plan for the terminal, including improvements to tanks, pipelines, piers and electrical equipment, was demanded by the government amid an accumulation of environmental liabilities, according to two sources close to PDVSA.
After an inspection in April, the company agreed to a $25-million investment plan with a first $5-million installment that has not been paid. PDVSA requested a portion of the money be delivered by its Isla refinery unit in Curacao, but it has not been received, one of the sources added.
In July, PDVSA’s Vice President of Trade and Supply Ysmel Serrano also visited BOPEC - acquired by the company in 1989 - with a team that inspected the marine terminal and made a list of the tasks needed to meet quality standards and reliability, the firm said at that time in a press release.
In the following months, BOPEC has been ordered to shut tanks that are no longer safe to operate. By the end of November, only 5 of 21 tanks were in operation, making it difficult for PDVSA to ship fuel oil from the terminal, according to the sources.
“PDVSA has invested nothing on those facilities for years, so the logistics to blend fuel oil has become a mess. They are selling the fuel oil directly from the pits at Amuay refinery,” one of the sources said.
State-run PDVSA typically ships fuel oil produced at Venezuela and Curacao to Bonaire, where it can be mixed at the right temperature and loaded into very large oil tankers. Its main customer is PetroChina Co.
The closure of tanks in Bonaire and the very low operation of PDVSA’s Amuay and Cardon refineries in Venezuela have contributed to problems in shipping ship fuel oil, one of the South American country’s main products for exports. (Reporting by Marianna Parraga and Gary McWilliams in Houston, with additional reporting by John van Kerkhof in St. Maarten; editing by Tom Brown, Diane Craft and Cynthia Osterman)