Caribbean islands struggling to restart refineries once operated by Venezuelan PdVSA

WILLEMSTAD - More than 1mn b/d of Caribbean refining capacity is nearly all on ice, with a recent shutdown in the US Virgin Islands underscoring dim prospects for a comeback.

Built by major oil companies last century and later orphaned by Venezuelan state-owned PdVSA, the refineries are seen as industrial relics that cannot compete with US Gulf coast plants.

Despite weak economics and ample availability of short-haul fuel supply, a few Caribbean countries still rely on the refineries for jobs and revenue, more so during the Covid-19 pandemic that devastated tourism. Some are turning to storage tanks, offshore logistics and LNG to try to monetize the aging assets and languishing brownfield sites. Others are still hoping to revive conventional refining.

Trinidad and Tobago, for one, has re-launched a tender for its 165,000 b/d Pointe-a-Pierre refinery following the late 2020 collapse of a sale agreement with a labor union-owned company. The deadline for proposals is 23 July. Defunct state-owned Petrotrin mothballed the refinery in late 2018.

Curaçao and Aruba are courting investors for assets that were once part of PdVSA's nearshore logistical network. A Dutch-led consortium is the latest candidate to restart the 335,000 b/d Isla plant that PdVSA used to operate. Trading company Mercuria is leasing storage at the Bullen Bay terminal in the meantime.

Aruba's 235,000 b/d San Nicolas refinery, dismantled by Valero in 2012, was supposed to have been refurbished by PdVSA's US refining arm Citgo before the $1.1bn project derailed in 2019. US firm Eagle LNG plans to install a terminal there. Aruba is hoping a US consortium will rebuild a modern refinery on the site as well. The projects are on hold while a new government is formed following June parliamentary elections.

Jamaica and the Dominican Republic are still partially operating their small refineries which estranged 49pc partner PdVSA had once promised to upgrade and expand. Jamaica wants an investor to rejuvenate its 35,000 b/d Kingston refinery but the island may need to settle for converting it into a storage terminal instead. PdVSA is suing for compensation for Jamaica's February 2019 expropriation of its stake.

The Jamaican refinery is currently processing around 23,500 b/d of imported crude.

Uncertainty over PdVSA's share in the Dominican Republic's 34,000 b/d Haina plant, as well as volatile market conditions, are contributing to a delay in a terminal transition and sale plan, the government says. The refinery is currently running 27,200 b/d of imported crude.

In May the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered the recently revived 200,000 b/d Limetree Bay refinery on the US Virgins Islands to close after a coker-related accident. A restart is uncertain. The refinery, a 525,000 b/d regional behemoth in its day, was previously owned by Hovensa, a joint venture between PdVSA and US independent Hess.

Off the Caribbean downstream radar is Cuba, where operational data on the state-owned 65,000 b/d Cienfuegos refinery is sketchy. Feedstock is limited by a shortage of hard currency and US sanctions on its traditional supplier PdVSA, but sporadic crude imports include an 830,000 bl cargo of Algerian Saharan blend in June.

Related News