| HOUSTON/CARACAS, April 25
HOUSTON/CARACAS, April 25 As political turmoil
in Venezuela persists, oil firms including Norwegian major
Statoil ASA and Spain's Repsol SA have further
reduced their already-dwindling ranks of expatriate employees in
the country, sources familiar with the situation said.
Statoil, Repsol and Chevron Corp are among the
foreign oil companies that hold minority stakes in more than 40
joint ventures with state-run Petroleos de Venezuela
(PDVSA), providing cash-strapped Venezuela with crucial crude
production and income amid a debilitating economic crisis.
Venezuela, South America's largest oil exporter, has been
pummeled by a brutal economic crisis that has millions skipping
meals, unable to afford soaring prices for basic goods and
facing long lines for scarce products.
More than a dozen people have been killed during near daily
clashes this month between security forces and protesters
calling for elections, the release of jailed activists, and
autonomy for the opposition-led congress.
At least 10 people have also died during night-time looting.
Leftist President Nicolas Maduro has accused the protesters of
plotting a coup against him.
There are no reports of the unrest affecting operations in
Venezuela's often isolated oil fields, but some firms have been
spooked by frequent barricades blocking streets and National
Guard forces firing tear gas in capital Caracas, where foreign
oil companies are usually based.
Statoil, which has a joint venture in the country's Orinoco
Belt extra-heavy crude region, has withdrawn its five to six
expatriate staff that remained in the country, two sources said.
Statoil's website says it has 30 employees in Venezuela
including local staff, although it was not clear how many were
Some expatriate staff with family at Repsol, which has a 40
percent stake in the Petroquiriquire joint venture with PDVSA
and also participates in the Orinoco, have recently left the
country, although others remain, two separate sources said.
Repsol has about 10 non-Venezuelan employees.
The sources all spoke within the past few days and requested
anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Statoil said it has been following the situation to
guarantee the safety of its staff, including local employees and
expatriates. Its operations are proceeding as normal, it added.
Repsol and Russia's Rosneft did not respond to
requests for information. Chevron declined to comment on
security and personnel issues.
The turmoil underlines the difficulty oil companies
encounter maintaining operations in high-risk countries from
Latin America to Africa to the Middle East. Such markets
typically compel the firms to pay premium salaries for expats
and employ specialized security staff to protect their families.
Chevron last year advised expats living in Venezuela with
their families to transfer to other locations, company sources
said, part of a gradual winnowing down of expat staff as life
grew more difficult there.
Venezuela's crime epidemic has long plagued foreign staffs.
Worsening shortages of goods are also making the country
Top Chinese oil executives nearly all relocated to
neighboring Colombia about a year ago because they were
frequently targeted by kidnappers, a source said.
Foreign oil executives who remain in Caracas are typically
restricted to living in certain areas, sometimes banned from
traveling after dark, and compelled to move around in armored
The recent moves by foreign oil companies recall an exit of
foreign staff from oil majors in Venezuela amid heightened
protests in 2014. Those demonstrations ultimately wilted due to
protester fatigue, a tough government response, and because
unrest largely failed to spread to poorer areas.
At Chevron, which participates in two oil projects in the
Orinoco Belt, expats are staying put for now but the company has
been monitoring looting to decide whether to change their
status, another source said.
Many other foreign oil companies still operate normally in
Venezuela, including Rosneft, sources from two firms said.
The U.S. embassy in Caracas last week recommended its
citizens living in Venezuela avoid areas where demonstrations
may erupt spontaneously as protests may result in violence.
(Writing by Christian Plumb; Editing by Matthew Lewis)