"Petrozuata has always been a responsible company and we recognize the authority of the Venezuelan state and are willing to comply. And you can quote me on that," Figuera said during a phone interview. "In this matter - taxes and royalties - the Venezuelan state is sovereign."
Venezuela's national assembly has approved plans to up income taxes for the four projects from 34% to 50%. In addition, companies pay royalties of 30% of profits and 3.3% in state income taxes.
Petrozuata is extracting 120,000 barrels a day (b/d), which it then turns into 104,000b/d of synthetic crude. The plant's upgrading unit underwent its latest scheduled maintenance stoppages in late 2005 and early 2006. Another maintenance stoppage is due in 2011, Figuera said.
State oil firm PDVSA has 49.9% of Petrozuata and US oil major ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) the balance.
The four Orinoco projects produce 620,000b/d of extra-heavy crude. The other projects are: Ameriven, where PDVSA has 40%; Cerro Negro, where it has 41.67%; and Sincor, where it has 38%. PDVSA will hold an average 51% stake in all four Orinoco projects by year-end, according to the government.
Private sector partners include US oil majors Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM) and Chevron (NYSE: CVX), Norway's Statoil (NYSE: STO), France's Total (NYSE: TOT) and the UK's BP (NYSE: BP).
Cerro Negro partner Exxon Mobil last week expressed "concern" regarding what it termed a "unilateral" tax hike.
Sincor said it is operating "as usual," producing some 180,000b/d of synthetic crude, although it lacks "enough information about the tax increase to announce a public stance about it," according to a company statement.
Ameriven officials declined to comment for this article.
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