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Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews. 

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Why The U.S. Won’t Sanction Venezuela’s Oil

Venezuela refinery

Over the past year, the U.S. has imposed increasingly restrictive sanctions on Venezuela’s finances and debt issuance as Nicolas Maduro continues to tighten his grip over the collapsing Venezuelan state.

Yet, despite expectations that the U.S. would slap direct sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry, Washington appears reluctant to go any further.

The word out of Washington is that the United States is no longer looking at sanctioning Venezuela’s oil industry, and not just because Venezuelan oil accounts for a large part of the imports of the refiners on the Gulf Coast. The U.S. Administration doesn’t want to be responsible for the total collapse of Venezuela, and doesn’t want to be blamed for contributing to it, analysts told Platts’s Brian Scheid.

“If you break it, you buy it,” George David Banks, a former international energy and environment adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, told Platts. “The White House doesn’t want to own this crisis.”

It looks like the U.S. Administration is currently shelving the idea of imposing oil sanctions on Venezuela, and the Trump Administration is much more hesitant than last year, probably more hesitant than ever, to use what has been seen as the ultimate punishment on Venezuela—a ban on U.S. imports of Venezuelan oil and/or a ban on U.S. exports of diluents that help Venezuela to blend its heavy crude oil so it can pass through pipes for export.

Rumors of U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan oil have been circulating the news flow for more than a year. This time last year, such sanctions were more in the realm of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.

The United States, however, while continuously tightening financial sanctions and designating a growing number of officials and persons, has so far refrained from slapping Venezuelan oil with restrictions. Related: Canada Frees Itself From Saudi Oil Imports

One reason may be that Gulf Coast refiners continue to rely on imports of Venezuela’s heavy oil. Despite the collapsing oil production, Venezuela has seen exports of crude oil to its biggest market, the United States, climb since February this year. In fact, between February and June, Venezuelan oil exports to the Gulf Coast refineries increased by an impressive 43 percent.

While U.S. imports in February stood at 472,000 bpd, they increased to 559,000 bpd in March, and to 632,000 bpd in April, EIA data shows. According to preliminary U.S. Customs data reported by Platts, oil imports from Venezuela averaged around 530,300 bpd in July.

Venezuela’s exports to the United States are holding steady, but its total oil production is collapsing, to the tune of around 50,000 bpd each month, even without direct sanctions on its oil.

Outside of war-induced outages, Venezuela is suffering the worst loss of oil production in history amid an unprecedented economic collapse, years of mismanagement and underinvestment in the oil industry, an aggravating humanitarian crisis, and a leader who is hell-bent on clinging to power. Venezuela’s inflation will surge to one million percent by the end of this year as the country with the world’s biggest oil reserves remains stuck in a profound economic and social crisis, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts.

The rig count in Venezuela plunged to 28 rigs in July 2018, compared to 50 rigs in July 2017, according to the Baker Hughes International Rig Count. Related: China’s Oil Futures Jump To Record High

OPEC’s latest Monthly Oil Market Report showed that Venezuela’s oil production dropped by 47,500 bpd from May to average 1.340 million bpd in June. This compares with an average of 2.154 million bpd in 2016, and an average of 1.911 million bpd in 2017.

The EIA joins other forecasts in predicting that Venezuela’s production will drop to below 1 million bpd by the end of this year, and to just 700,000 bpd by the end of next year. The 700,000 bpd projection is comparable to the current oil production of New Mexico, for example.


In view of this utterly desperate situation in Venezuela’s oil industry, U.S. sanctions would only make things worse and lead to higher oil prices, which President Trump and the Administration don’t want ahead of the mid-term elections in November.

Then, Maduro could use U.S. oil sanctions to blame the ‘imperialist power’ for the total collapse of the country. The United States wants to avoid taking responsibility for this collapse at all costs.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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  • Mamdouh G Salameh on August 09 2018 said:
    If the US is not going to impose sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports, it is not because of a kindly motivation not to cause a humanitarian disaster for the Venezuelan people. The motivation is simply and purely the import needs of US refiners on the Gulf Coast and the risk of rising oil prices leading to a loss by the Republican party in the forthcoming mid-term Congressional elections in November with high oil prices offsetting the tax cuts.

    From sanctions on Russia, punitive tariffs on China, intrusive sanctions on Iran, sanctions on a NATO ally, Turkey and even a threat to sue OPEC for antitrust trade practices under NOPEC the United States' hands are full. But sanctions on Venezuela’s oil exports are different. They could lead to the total collapse of the economy and a huge humanitarian disaster which the US will
    be blamed for and will, therefore, feel morally obliged to help relieve. For the United States it will be a policy of cut your losses in Venezuela. It is a true manifestation of the discredited ”America First” policy.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London
  • Bob on August 09 2018 said:
    No kindness about it.

    They don't want to be blamed. Venezuela's failure needs to be seen to have Venezuelan causes. Otherwise retards will just go down the same path again later. Ignoring everything to do with image in the area, while blaming previous failures on the US.

    Which is already attempted anyway. Maybe if retards didn't blame the US for Socialism's constant failures, the Venezuelan people wouldn't have allowed the attempt.
  • Lionel Mandrake on September 23 2018 said:
    Trump should send a cruise missile up Maduro's ass. Would be very cheap to do.
  • Rodrigo Muñoz on October 03 2018 said:
    If they ramp up the production in Mexico. That would solve the problem for the Gulf refineries.
    You can do it gradually. The US also can increase oil production.

    The Venezuela country is already destroyed economically. What industry do they still have?

    To whom can they sell it to. To Rusia or Iran no because they are producers. To Cuba no because they do not have money. To China, they owed them a lot of money.

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