World News

Some Venezuelan gas stations empty as government bans queuing to slow coronavirus

By Mariela Nava and Luc Cohen

MARACAIBO, Venezuela (Reuters) – Some gasoline stations in Venezuela were unusually empty on Wednesday, as regional authorities banned queuing for gasoline as part of a nationwide quarantine to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, but motor fuel has grown increasingly scarce in the past year due to U.S. sanctions aimed at ousting President Nicolas Maduro, as well as dropping output at state owned oil company PDVSA’s refineries. Hours-long queues at gas stations have become a common sight.

The bans on queues ordered by regional authorities this week for three states come as the risks of acute fuel shortages rise.

So far in March, just 71,250 barrels per day (bpd) of fuel have been discharged at Venezuelan ports, compared to rates of 166,000 bpd in January and 177,000 in February, according to PDVSA documents seen by Reuters and Refinitiv Eikon data.

Approximately 55,000 bpd more is either en route to Venezuela or waiting off the coast to unload later this month.

Venezuela’s refineries have the capacity to produce about 1.3 million bpd but are in critical shape. They processed just 154,000 bpd of crude on average in January and February, according to an internal PDVSA document seen by Reuters, well below domestic fuel demand of about 300,000 bpd.

Neither PDVSA nor Venezuela’s oil ministry responded to requests for comment

Regional authorities said the bans on queuing were designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Venezuela, where 36 cases have been confirmed, and ensure security and health services had enough fuel.

Authorities in the western state of Zulia said people who receive regular medical treatment such as chemotherapy or dialysis would be able to apply for permits to receive gasoline in order to be able to transport themselves to their appointments.

But not all were successful. Luis Urdaneta, 56, said he needs gasoline to bring his sister to a dialysis center to treat her kidney disease but was denied a permit.

“I have a quarter tank left, because I’ve been saving,” Urdaneta said, fearing he and his sister would have to walk to the clinic. “I’m scared that on one of those walks she’ll die on me.”

A source at PDVSA said the arrival of more tankers in the coming days would alleviate the fuel situation.

(Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga in Mexico City, Maria de los Angeles in Puerto Ordaz, Deisy Buitrago in Caracas and Anggy Polanco in San Cristobal, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)