Lost among most of the discussions about the health of Venezuela’s president-for-life, Hugo Chavez, as he moves toward what seems will be an imminent death is the future of the nation’s oil exports.
Chavez has changed the industry in the South American nation via a series of nationalizations of crude production. And the efficiency with which Venezuela finds and refines oil has slowed. Chavez has fed much of the region with cheap oil, which has helped some national economies — particularly that of Cuba.
By many measures, Venezuela is first among all nations based on proven oil reserves, just ahead of Saudi Arabia. That means any disruption of its exports could drive crude prices higher, at least temporarily. Alternatively, if a new government elects to export larger quantities of oil to fill the national treasury, global oil prices could drop substantially.
Chavez may be dead in a week, and with him Venezuela’s long-term oil strategy.
Douglas A. McIntyre