Natural Gas and Petrochemicals

Natural Gas and Petrochemicals

Venezuela also possessed vast reserves of natural gas. Proven gas reserves reached an estimated 3 trillion cubic meters in 1989, the second greatest proven reserves in the Western Hemisphere after the United States. At current rates of extraction, proven gas reserves could meet domestic needs into the twenty-second century. In the late 1980s, the country produced roughly 22 billion cubic meters of gas a year, most of which was used to meet domestic energy needs.

The natural gas industry increased in importance during the 1980s as oil prices declined, as more households received piped gas, as gas-intensive heavy industries came on-stream, and as liberalization of foreign investment rapidly expanded the potential of the petrochemical industry. Natural gas effectively became the property of the state under the Hydrocarbons Reversion Law of 1971, at which time the state-owned CVP oversaw exploration. A major effort to expand consumer sales of gas in the late 1980s involved gas pipeline construction to provide gas to households. Gas also fueled some of the industries in the mining sector.

Venezuelan Petrochemicals (Petroquímicas de Venezuela-- Pequiven), a PDVSA subsidiary established in 1977, oversaw petrochemical development. Pequiven's forerunner institution, the Venezuelan Petrochemical Institute (Instituto Venezolano de Petroquímicas--IVP), was established in 1956. A source of corruption and political patronage, the IVP was reorganized in 1977 in a controversial decision to bring it within PDVSA's nascent structure. The new Pequiven proved successful under PDVSA's guidance, registering its first profit in 1983. Pequiven extended its profits as petrochemical production more than quadrupled from 1979 to 1988, from 540,000 to 2.3 million tons.

In 1990 Pequiven consisted of four major subsidiaries and sixteen associated companies. Numerous joint ventures with multinational firms, however, were slated to begin in the mid1990s . The three major petrochemical complexes in Venezuela were at El Tablazo in Zulia, Morón in Carabobo, and José in Anzoátegui. El Tablazo, traditionally the largest complex, produced ammonia, urea, polystyrene, ethylene, and propylene. The Morón plant, the site of the country's first commercial fertilizer production, also fabricated chlorine, caustic soda, and sulfuric acid, all used in heavy industry. The complex in Anzoátegui was scheduled to manufacture liquefied natural gas, methanol, and methyl-tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), primarily for export. Among the three complexes, the country also produced pesticides, insecticides, resins, explosives, aromatics, and ethane dichloride and other chemicals. As of 1990, a fourth petrochemical complex in Paraguana in the state of Falcón was also anticipated.

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