BEIJING/HOUSTON Dec 13 China's Guangdong
Zhenrong Energy Co will submit a plan by April to revamp a
century-old oil refinery in Curacao, as it seeks to secure a
$5.5 billion project that will give China a foothold in the
Caribbean's second-largest oil refinery.
Guangdong Zhenrong, a commodity trader with strong backing
from Beijing, signed a binding framework pact with Curacao's
government on Nov. 19, Chen Bingyan, the firm's director and
chief negotiator for the venture, told Reuters, moving past a
memorandum of understanding in September.
If the deal goes ahead, the Chinese firm would replace
Venezuela's cash-strapped state oil firm PDVSA as operator of
the 335,000 barrels per day (bpd) Isla refinery, tightening its
grip on Venezuela's oil industry.
China already takes about a quarter of Venezuela's exports,
while its top state energy group China National Petroleum Corp
has minority stakes in several joint ventures with
Under the framework pact, Guangdong Zhenrong will provide
this month a letter of guarantee from China Development Bank to
finance up to 85 percent of the project, which includes building
a new gas terminal and expanding oil storage on Curacao, a tiny
island 50 km (30 miles) northwest of Venezuela.
The Chinese firm will have until June to sign a new 40-year
lease starting 2020 to operate the Isla refinery, although it is
keen to work with PDVSA to secure crude oil for the refinery and
market the fuel.
"We are looking for a long-term partnership with PDVSA, in
crude oil supply, fuel marketing as well as plant management,"
Chen Bingyan, the firm's director and chief negotiator for the
venture, told Reuters.
PDVSA did not respond to a request for comment.
VENEZUELA OIL GIANT STRUGGLES
Analysts said the deal could help PDVSA by keeping the
"It may secure an asset that is important for PDVSA,
particularly if Zhenrong can fund the needed upgrades to the
refinery," said Robert Campbell of consultancy Energy Aspects.
"On the other hand, it potentially increases China's control
over the Venezuelan oil industry."
Chen said the Chinese firm was ready to spend $100 million
before PDVSA's lease expires in end-2019, in a bid to tackle
pollution from the plant, a sore point with the local community.
The Curacao government turned to Guangdong Zhenrong after
PDVSA struggled to maintain normal business at the plant,
delaying paying for crude oil cargoes and unwilling to spend on
the badly-needed plant revamp.
However, the terminal attached to the refinery is highly
strategic for PDVSA as it is used to blend its heavy crude with
lighter oil and load supplies for shipment to Asia, as well as
The deal would transform Guangdong Zhenrong from a commodity
trader into a full-fledged oil and gas company, boosted by an
alliance with BP and its global marketing expertise.
BP, one of the largest sellers of U.S. crude since a
decades-long ban was lifted in late 2015, has been feeding Isla
with U.S. light crude since April under a supply agreement with
Guangdong Zhenrong, with 2014 revenues at $10 billion, has
said it would lead the project and seek technical and
operational support from the country's state energy giants.
Longer term, Chen said Guangdong Zhenrong could consider
relocating the plant from its urban location near the capital
Willemstad to Bullenbay, with the Curacao government possibly
becoming a minority partner.
The plan will be raised with Curacao's new government, which
is due to take office later this month, he said.
(Reporting by Chen Aizhu in Beijing, Marianna Parraga in
Houston and Alexandra Ulmer in Caracas; Editing by Richard