CARACAS, Oct 17 (Reuters) - The catalytic cracker at Venezuela’s Cardon refinery, key to gasoline production, was halted on Friday due to equipment failure, two union leaders and two workers said.
Gasoline shortages persist across the OPEC nation, as U.S. sanctions on state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela have exacerbated problems caused by years of underinvestment and lack of maintenance at its refineries.
The shortages have led to snaking, sometimes days-long lines outside PDVSA gas stations. Together with unreliable water, power, and cooking gas supplies, the shortages have prompted a new wave of protests, particularly in Venezuela’s near-abandoned interior, where they have been more acute.
The new incident leaves the country without gasoline production after a fire affected the El Palito refinery’s cracking unit on October 9.
PDVSA has not commented on that incident or the re-start of the plant, but sources familiar with the issue said repairs would take about three weeks.
Union leader Ivan Freites told Reuters on Saturday the problem could be fixed within a few hours but they did not yet have the spare parts. “We estimate that it should take about three days with the catalytic,” he added.
PDVSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Another union leader, Eudis Girot, explained there were problems with the wet gas compressor, cooling fans and light unit.
“More catalyst was burned than gasoline produced,” he added.
Cardon’s fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) unit in the western state of Falcon was producing around 25,000 bpd of gasoline. Cardon has a 310,000 bpd capacity and, together with neighboring Amuay refinery, forms the Paraguana Refining Center (CRP), the country’s largest refining complex.
Recently three Iranian tankers unloaded some 820,000 barrels of gasoline to the country. The flotilla was the second group of fuel tankers Iran has sent this year to Venezuela. (Reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Writing by Sarah Kinosian; Editing by David Gregorio)