Venezuela reopens refinery after fire
Aug 31, 2012 / 2:00 pm
Operations resumed Friday at the Amuay refinery where an explosion set off a raging fire and killed 42 people and injured more than 150 others, Venezuela's state oil company announced.
The accident had nearly paralyzed work at the oil installation in western Venezuela since the huge explosion early Saturday, which authorities blamed on a gas leak.
Amuay is one of the largest refineries in the world and is part of the PDVSA oil monopoly's Paraguana Refining Complex, which includes the adjacent Cardon refinery.
"Operational activities have resumed safely and gradually" at Amuay, said Paraguana CEO Jesus Luongo, who is also director of PDVSA Refining.
Venezuelan officials had initially said the refinery would be back in operation within two days, but later said it would be two days after fires were put out.
In the end, the last fire was extinguished Tuesday and it took about three days for production to resume.
The disaster has prompted questions about whether Petroleos de Venezuela SA has neglected maintenance while funneling its revenues into social programs run by President Hugo Chavez's socialist government.
A document released Thursday by two national Venezuelan newspapers said that months before the explosion, a study by engineers had found failures in the complex's maintenance and listed dozens of accidents.
The study said there had been 222 accidents at the Paraguana Refining Complex last year. It said 100 of those involved fires, and 60 were breaks and leaks in pipes that carry combustible liquids.
Critics have said that in addition to refinery failures from delayed maintenance, PDVSA's operations have also suffered from the firing of 45 per cent of the company's 18,000 oil workers in 2003 for joining a strike called by Chavez's political opponents to press demands that the president resign.
It was not until last March that the company was able to match pre-layoff levels and begin to increase production.
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