By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS -- Concern about the outlook for Venezuela's oil export earnings was underlined by a report from the World Bank. This lent confirmation to indepedent reports that Venezuelan oil production has fallen during the course of this decade.
The report put the decline at 19% since 2000. It noted that output in Mexico has stagnated before recently starting to fall, while Brazilian production had risen over the same period. In Brazil, it said, output had increased by 45%, while known reserves had risen by 49%.
Oil industry insiders in Venezuela have consistently claimed that production is significantly lower than the official rate of around 3.1 million b/d. so, too, do the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)and the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Venezuelan oil production was severely hit by the two-month national strike against President Hugo Chávez around the turn of 2002-03. At the height of the strike, production was said to have dropped to as little as 39,000 b/d.
The government claims that senior staff at the state oil corporation, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), deliberately damaged hundreds of oil wells as part of the strike action. Around 18,000 experienced technical staff and managers were sacked for taking part in the strike.
The charges of sabotage are denied by representatives of the dismissed personnel. They say wells have fallen into disrepair for lack of maintenance and that the damage is fully repaired because PDVSA had gotten rid of most of its skilled employees.
PDVSA's critics insist that oil production never fully recovered from the strike, and has consistently been below official claims. In the absence of statistics from PDVSA, which was once regarded as one of the more open state oil companies in the world, working out production levels is a matter of conjecture based on inside information.