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PDVSA stops certification of oil data by independent auditor

, 2011

Venezuela said on Tuesday it was no longer publishing oil production and export data certified by an independent auditor in a move that will likely add to skepticism over the OPEC member's assessment of its vital crude sector.

The socialist government of President Hugo Chavez routinely gives higher figures for the main export by South America's biggest crude producer than those provided by bodies including OPEC and estimates from industry experts.

The Energy Ministry said in a report on Tuesday that exports had declined 16 percent to 2.17 million barrels per day (bpd) in February compared with the month before.

It also said overall oil production was 2.77 mln bpd in February, down from 2.90 mln bpd in January, but in line with output during the months before that.

"From this month on, we shall no longer be commissioning or publishing export/import or domestic market certificates," the ministry added in its report.

Sources at the ministry could not immediately elaborate. Venezuela's oil data had been certified by Inspectorate, the commodity inspection branch of French company Bureau Veritas.

The decision to end certification comes a month after the authorities in Caracas said output last year fell to its lowest level since a strike in 2002.

Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez told a local television station on Sunday that Venezuela aimed to boost overall oil production by two-thirds or more to 4.5 million or 5 million bpd over the next three years.


The government's initial move to publish audited statistics had been an effort to dispel doubts about the official data. Beginning in January last year, Caracas added overall production levels, also certified by Inspectorate, to the audited export figures that it was already publishing.

The data had originally been sought to change the views of Venezuelan production among influential analysts and groups including the IEA and OPEC, neither of which showed a major revision upward in their estimates, an industry source said. Underlining the uncertainty over the real performance of country's oil sector now and in recent years, OPEC said in its latest annual report that the country's crude production had declined slowly to 2.88 million bpd in 2009.

Chavez's government says it was actually 3.01 million bpd. Meanwhile, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates Venezuela's crude output was just 2.20 million bpd in 2009.

Venezuela sits on some of the largest oil reserves in the world. But several factors, including OPEC output cuts, bad weather and low investment by state oil company PDVSA have contributed to falling production in the past two years.

Venezuelan supplies to the United States, the top consumer of the OPEC nation's crude, have waned. Data from the U.S. EIA show U.S. imports of Venezuelan crude averaged about 890,000 bpd in February, down about 110,000 bpd from January.

For the first three weeks of March, they have averaged less than 750,000 bpd, according to the EIA. A wave of nationalizations has also crimped production, with PDVSA struggling to take on field and drilling services that were previously carried out by private companies.

Oil sales provide 95 percent of the nation's export revenue, so declining output is a headache for Chavez, who uses the income to fund wide-ranging social programs and is expected to ramp up state spending ahead of a presidential ballot where he will run for reelection in December in 2012.

His administration is pushing foreign energy company partners to boost production at joint-venture projects, while also putting its hopes in ambitious new developments to tap the country's vast Orinoco extra heavy crude belt.

Table of export data:

Story by Daniel Wallis from Reuters . Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga in Caracas and Matthew Robinson in New York; Editing by David Gregorio

Reuters/ Tue Mar 29, 2011 4:24pm EDT



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