Agreement Aims to Restart Curacao Refinery


Agreement Aims to Restart Curacao Refinery
A view of the Isla Oil Refinery in Willemstad, Curacao. © TamasV

Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. and the owner of Refineria Isla have reached an agreement resolving a debt dispute and re-establishing commercial relations – raising the possibility that the Caribbean’s only base oil plant may reopen.

The entire Isla refinery has been shuttered since 2019 while Curacao’s government sought an operator. PdVSA’s Dec. 19 news release about the new agreement did not directly state that the Venezuelan company – or any other entity – will assume that role, but it referred to the facility’s reopening as a foregone conclusion.

“The agreement will have a favorable impact on the economies of both countries, since it will be associated with the reactivation of the former Isla Refinery,” it said.

PdVSA, the national oil company of Venezuela, formerly operated the refinery for decades under a contract with Curacao’s government, but the government grew dissatisfied in the second half of last decade, blaming the company that the facility was falling into disrepair.

Refineria di Korsou, the government entity that owns the facility, decided to allow the contract to lapse in 2018 and to seek a replacement operator. When a replacement was not found in time, the entities agreed to extend PdVSA’s term, but the facility shut down for good by 2019 due to lack of crude oil to process.

Historically the refinery ran largely on PdVSA crude, but the company’s ability to supply was hampered at that time by United States sanctions against the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

The U.S. has recently relaxed those sanctions, and Maduro’s administration sought to repair relations with its island neighbor and former customer.

The news release did not set a timeline for restarting the refinery, which has capacity to process 335,000 barrels of crude per day. The aging facility includes a base oil plant with capacity to make 5,000 b/d of API Group I paraffinic base oil and 3,700 b/d of naphthenic base oil.

Since 2019 the Curacao government has conducted several rounds of bids aimed at selecting a new operator, but each failed.