July 2, 2019 / 3:25 PM / 21 days ago

Venezuela to blend domestic, imported oil to keep exports afloat -oil minister

VIENNA, July 2 (Reuters) - Venezuela will stick to its plan of blending domestic and foreign crude to maintain and even increase oil production and exports in the face of sanctions prohibiting U.S. companies from buying the country's oil, oil minister Manuel Quevedo said on Tuesday.

State-run oil company PDVSA in June began tests to focus exports almost entirely on the crude grade preferred by some Asian markets, Merey heavy crude, after shipments of oil and refined products fell in May following U.S. sanctions, according to internal documents seen by Reuters.

"Our plan is to recover. We have internal strategies... One of them is to continue blending (to produce) the product we export the most, Merey crude. We will continue blending our own crudes and will also import crude," Quevedo said on the sidelines of a meeting between OPEC and non-OPEC countries in Vienna.

Quevedo said sanctions imposed in late January have affected PDVSA's financial transactions, shipping and procurement, and have delayed a plan to boost Venezuela's crude output by 1 million bpd.

On top of sanctions, power outages in March also knocked down PDVSA's crude output to 400,000 bpd, Quevedo sad, also affecting exports to most PDVSA's customers.

"We have done nothing wrong. We don't deserve to have any country watching over us," he said.

Venezuela's oil exports recovered in June from a sharp drop the month before, helped by increased deliveries to China, which is now state-run oil firm PDVSA's primary destination for its crude, according to company records and Refinitiv Eikon data.

Washington in January imposed the toughest sanctions yet on PDVSA to pressure socialist President Nicolas Maduro to step down, after recognizing the head of congress, Juan Guaido, as the country's legitimate leader.

The measures ban U.S. companies, which were the main buyers of Venezuelan oil, from dealing with the company. (Reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar in Vienna, writing by Marianna Parraga; Editing by David Gregorio)

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