As the world watches the situation in Venezuela continue to ever more rapidly descend from one level of hell to the next – like some coked-up modern version of Dante’s Inferno – my role has almost become a Virgilian explanation to investors, officials and onlookers of what happens in the next lower, depressing ring.
There is no easy way to say it: The only thing Venezuela has keeping the lights on – aside from the obvious, seemingly indomitable spirit of its people — is its oil production and that oil production is falling rapidly. Worse, according to our rig count, investigation and research, that oil production will continue to fall in the year ahead.
As the table above shows, Venezuela did not report its July production figures to OPEC — despite PDVSA President Eulogio del Pino’s mid-month promises that it was going to be up (or perhaps, because of those promises).
Instead, what the figures show is that by Venezuela’s own submitted count, its oil production has fallen from 2.587 million barrels per day (bpd) at the start of the year to 2.364 million bpd by the end of June (which it did submit) – an admitted decline of 223,000 bpd in 6 months.
But OPEC also keeps a separate count of oil production, and their figures reveal 2 amazing things about Venezuela’s July production:
First is that OPEC calculates Venezuela’s fall in production from January to July as 259,000 bpd lost. Second, that OPEC calculates that Venezuela barely produced over 2 million bpd in July.
While 2.095 million bpd is nothing to shake a stick at for most countries, that is down from 3.5 million bpd when Venezuela President Hugo Chavez was elected in 1998. More importantly, as the table above shows, Saudi Arabia, which has lower oil reserves than Venezuela, is producing 10.477 million bpd.
But most importantly, that 2.095 million is sadly not what is available for export. According to PDVSA’s 128 pages of financials for 2015, Venezuela burned 580,000 bpd domestically in 2015, which PDVSA’s audited financials also explain is down from 647,000 bpd in 2014.
That would leave just 1.5 million bpd available for export.
But, as PDVSA’s financials also reveal, Venezuela sent an average of 579,000 bpd to China in 2015 to repay the $65 billion that China has loaned Venezuela (As the price of oil has fallen, that 2015 figure is up from 472,000 in 2014 because it takes more bpd to keep paying the debt, the Financial Statements also reveal). But remember, China has already paid for that oil with $65 billion in loans to Caracas and Venezuela has already spent that money, so mostly no real income to Venezuela from that 579,000 bpd (which also is counted at a discount).
So, take away another 600,000 from that 1.5 million bpd and suddenly you have just 900,000 bpd to generate hard cash from export — the bulk of which (around 700,000 bpd) goes to the USA and Citgo in particular, making the USA Venezuela’s biggest customer). According to the Energy Information Agency, Venezuela’s exports to the USA netted Caracas just $4.3 billion for the first 6 months of the year (700k bpd multiplied by Venezuela basket average for first 6 months of $31.50 comes to around $4 billion). And that is before the actual lift costs to Venezuela, which are between $10 to $23 a barrel, which is why there is not enough money to pay for food or medicine or bond payments – much less your suppliers and service providers, which bring us to the next leg down.
Because PDVSA doesn’t have the cash, it has not been paying the companies pumping the oil, whether they be majors (Shell says they are owed over $500 million, for example), countries (India says their oil companies are owed $600 million) or oil service providers (Schlumberger and Halliburton together were owed $2.1 billion as of April).
As a result, Schlumberger and Halliburton announced 4 months ago that they were drawing down their resources and personnel in Venezuela. Our investigations confirm that is indeed happening. In July Lagunillas union officials revealed to Platts that 4 of the 6 platforms that Schlumberger operated on Lake Maracaibo were no longer operating.
To confirm the depth of the withdrawal, we started calling extended stay hotels in oil regions across the country where these companies house employees in the field. At a hotel in Maturin in the state of Monagas, for example, the San Miguel near PDVSA’s PetroOriente headquarters there, Schlumberger had vacated over 80 rooms (over half of the hotel).
As a result, according to Baker Hughes (above graph), Venezuela’s rig count has fallen 19 rigs from 68 in May to just 49 active rigs in July.
It is the same for other unpaid oil service providers in Venezuela. In May, Peru’s Petrex halted drilling at 28 of its projects and Argentina’s San Antonio Internacional suspended drilling at 8 of its 16 rigs in Venezuela.
What that means is that Venezuela’s future production will continue to fall – and likely below 2 million barrels per day. Based on the trend lines above, we would not be surprised to see production fall even further to 1.7 to 1.8 million bpd as PDVSA continues in a vicious circle with the rest of the country into a new lower ring of hell.