Venezuela sees refinery fire out on Friday

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 20, 2012 7:53 PM
Venezuela sees refinery fire out on Friday

By Mario Naranjo and Diego Ore

CARACAS (Reuters) - A fire caused by lightning at Venezuela's 146,000 barrel-per-day El Palito refinery should be extinguished on Friday and operations remained unaffected, President Hugo Chavez said.

In the latest accident on the OPEC member's troubled oil installation network, an electrical storm late on Wednesday set fire to two naphtha storage tanks at the El Palito facility in central Venezuela.

The incident revived painful memories of last month's disaster at the 645,000-bpd Amuay plant, the South American country's biggest refinery, when a gas leak caused an explosion that killed 42 people, injured dozens and damaged 1,600 homes.

One of the tanks at El Palito was extinguished within hours, but the second tank continued to burn on Thursday.

"Tomorrow, God willing, the second tank should be beaten," Chavez said in a televised speech.

PDVSA has suffered a string of accidents and outages across its refinery network in recent years. Critics say Chavez's socialist government is under-investing in the oil industry because it diverts so much crude revenue to welfare programs.

Oil minister and PDVSA President Rafael Ramirez told state television the situation at El Palito was under control.

"Operations are normal," he said on Thursday morning from the scene. "We have not stopped a single refining process."

Some 120 firemen were at the refinery, and had extinguished flames at the larger tank. The other fire was "controlled and confined," he added.

PDVSA said Venezuela's fuel inventories were at a "completely normal" level of 10 to 12 days.

Officials said the fire was some distance from production units at El Palito, and insisted there was no risk to local communities.

Last month's blast at the Amuay refinery was one of the global oil industry's worst accidents in years. Firefighters battled blazes in storage tanks there for days.

"This is a totally different situation to Amuay," Ramirez added.

(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Lisa Shumaker)