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velargeCARACAS: Venezuela's imports of US oil products more than doubled in September as the OPEC nation struggled to produce them locally after an explosion and fire at its biggest refinery, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Friday.


Data released by the EIA showed Venezuela imported 196,000 barrels per day (bpd) of processed fuels during September, up from 83,000 bpd in August and the highest level recorded since 2004 when the EIA began keeping records.


That brought the overall average level of US fuel imports by Venezuela for the first nine months of the year up to 70,000 bpd, up from an average of 31,000 bpd for the whole of 2011.


The disaster in late August at the South American country's giant Amuay refinery was one of the global oil industry's most deadly accidents in recent years, killing more than 40 people and wrecking hundreds of nearby homes.


But it was just one of several, unplanned maintenance stoppages and smaller incidents that have beset state oil company PDVSA's refinery network in recent years.


PDVSA workers calculate Venezuela's refineries are operating at 64 percent of their 1.3 million bpd capacity, compared with an average of 80 percent of capacity over the last two decades.


Some of Venezuela's imports from the United States are normally liquefied petroleum gas and naphtha, which are used to dilute the country's extra heavy tar-like crudes.


But September's figures showed an increase in the proportion of imports that were finished fuels, such a gasoline and diesel, in a sign that PDVSA's local production capacity was hit hard by the Amuay disaster.


Earlier this month, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez told Reuters that the refinery should be operating normally at about 500,000 bpd by the end of the year, once PDVSA finishes repairing a distillation unit that was damaged in the blast.


Copyright Reuters, 2012

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