Survey of Energy Resources 2007
Natural Bitumen and Extra-Heavy Oil Country Notes
A small amount of the Venezuelan extra-heavy oil resource is found in the Maracaibo Basin, but the resources of worldwide significance lie in the Orinoco Oil Belt along the southern, up-dip edge of the Eastern Venezuela Basin. One natural bitumen deposit, Guanoco Lake, is found near the Caribbean coast on the north side of the Eastern Venezuela Basin. The deposit has been estimated to contain 62 million barrels of oil in place (Walters, 1974).
Four joint ventures for the exploitation of extra-heavy crude have been operating since 2001, and as of 2006 have an extra-heavy oil production capacity of
640 000 b/d. All the projects, in one way or another, involve production, transportation, and upgrading facilities. In 2001, Venezuela passed the new Hydrocarbons Law that increased royalties and required all new projects with foreign oil firm participation to be formed as joint ventures with PDVSA (Petróleos de Venezuela) as majority owner.
Venezuela, through PDVSA, started a reserves certification programme to increase the proved reserves in the Orinoco Oil Belt. The companies that participate in the certification programme will be considered first for upstream development. Participation in the programme has been by foreign national oil companies: Petrobras (Brazil), Petropars (Iran), CNPC (China) and ONGC (India). Petrobras and PDVSA have already established a joint venture to develop the Carabobo 1 block. The project is supposed to produce 200 000 b/d of extra-heavy oil at its peak. An offsite upgrade facility is included. Project investment costs are expected to be $4 billion. Some of the partnerships of currently-operating extra-heavy oil projects are seeking to increase reserves and production at their projects. However, the Venezuelan government has announced its intention to nationalise the Orinoco projects.
In the early 1980s Intevep, the research affiliate of the state oil company PDVSA, developed a method of utilising some of the hitherto untouched potential of Venezuela's extra-heavy oil resource. The extra-heavy oil (7.5-8.5º gravity API) was extracted from the reservoir and emulsified with water (70% natural bitumen, 30% water, <1% surfactants). The resulting product was called Orimulsion®. Initial tests were conducted in Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom, and exports began in 1988. Bitúmenes del Orinoco S.A. (Bitor), a PDVSA subsidiary, operated a plant at Morichal in Cerro Negro with a capacity of 5.2 million tonnes per year. In 2005 PDVSA announced it would cease Orimulsion® production because it was more profitable to sell the extracted oil as feedstock to extra-heavy oil upgraders. In 2006, PDVSA and CNPC (Chinese National Oil Company) initiated the Sinovensa project, to supply two power plants in China and to meet some of PDVSA's commitments to supply Orimulsion®. However, in September 2006 the Minister of Energy and Petroleum announced that the Sinovensa operation would cease production at the end of the year.