HOUSTON, May 1 (Reuters) - Venezuela resumed exports of light crude to its political ally Cuba in March after an eight-month pause that led to a production halt at the island’s jointly-owned Cienfuegos refinery, according to internal data from state-run PDVSA seen by Reuters.
PDVSA last year minimized exports of its lighter grade crudes, especially to the Caribbean, which since then have been used mainly to dilute its extra-heavy oil and convert it into exportable crude.
The cut halted nearly all operations at the middle of last year at the dated Cienfuegos refinery, a Soviet-era facility configured to run Russian crude, and later upgraded by PDVSA to convert up to 65,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Venezuelan oil into refined products for Cuba’s domestic market and exports.
Even though PDVSA has in recent years increased shipments of refined products to Cuba to partially compensate for falling crude supply, gasoline shortages in both countries since March have revealed that fuel output has failed to meet demand.
To solve the situation, PDVSA’s new board of directors ordered a resumption of exports of the Mesa 30 light crude that Cienfuegos requires, according to a source with knowledge of the decision and internal documents from the company showing the shipments.
In March, PDVSA sent 1.39 million barrels of Mesa 30 crude to Cuba in three separate cargoes discharged at the storage facility of Matanzas. It also exported to Cuba a 596,000-barrel cargo of reconstituted crude, according to the data.
Earlier this year, PDVSA had only sent between 500,000 and 600,000 barrels per month of its heavier crude blends to Cuba, the data showed.
The increase in crude exports would be in preparation for restarting the Cienfuegos refinery to increase fuel production on the island, a trader and a shipper close to the exports said.
But that could also imply the OPEC-member country will have less local light oil on hand to produce exportable blends.
Since Cienfuegos halted almost all its operations, Cuba’s domestic market has only been supplied from the 25,000-bpd Havana refinery, the only one that can produce finished motor gasoline.
Cuba in March stopped selling premium-grade gasoline except to tourists amid insufficient fuel supply from PDVSA. The decision was made just days after a gasoline shortage affected Venezuela, forcing car drivers to wait in long lines in a country where most people struggle every day to find basic goods.
Cuba’s domestic market consumes about 160,000 bpd of fuels, mostly fuel oil for power generation.
Reporting by Marianna Parraga; Editing by Marguerita Choy