ICO Pipeline to Start Operations Dec. 12th, Boosts Venezuela's Oil Output

The startup of Venezuela's Interconexion Centro Occidente natural gas pipeline on December 12 is expected to boost oil production in the western part of the country, energy and oil minister and state oil firm PDVSA president Rafael Ramírez told BNamericas.

ICO will connect the rich natural gas deposits in Falcón state with the maturing oil fields and refineries that desperately need gas in the rest of the country, including Zulia state, home to PDVSA's western division.

The gas is especially needed for secondary crude recovery in mature wells. "ICO should have been implemented 20 years ago," Ramírez said. "On December 12 the first phase enters operation.

ICO will solve the problems of the gas deficit in western Venezuela." Venezuela's crude production is now 3.3 million barrels a day (Mb/d) of which PDVSA and its partners currently produce slightly below 1Mb/d in western Venezuela. ICO will connect potential offshore natural gas discoveries in western Venezuela to refineries, petrochemical complexes and maturing fields, some of which have been producing oil since oil companies first arrived in Venezuela almost 100 years ago.

US company Chevron, Russia's Gazprom, Brazil's Petrobras, Spain's Repsol YPF and Japan's Teikoku have recently been awarded licenses in the Gulf of Venezuela off Falcón state, giving rise to the hope of new gas discoveries in the coming years. Ramírez told BNamericas in July that the 320km ICO pipeline ended up costing US$600mn, way above initial estimates in 2004 that put a price tag of US$470mn on the project.

Natural gas has become an integral part of the new energy policy promoted by President Hugo Chávez. Some refineries and petrochemicals facilities in Venezuela still consider natural gas a cumbersome byproduct and flare it off.

With about 150 trillion cubic feet of proven gas reserves, Venezuela is among the top 10 countries in the world in terms of natural gas reserves.

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