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FACTBOX-Latin American refining projects face delays

Sunday, 17 Nov 2013 | 2:13 PM ET

Latin America is buying more refined products from one of its closest neighbors, the United States, to satisfy increased domestic demand.

With a large but aged refining network, the region has not invested enough to add new capacity. The biggest projects have undergone long delays, suggesting the region will keep increasing fuel imports in the coming years.

The following is a list of refining projects in countries that are Latin America's main importers of U.S. finished fuels.

MEXICO

Mexico said it will invest $3.5 billion to expand the 325,000 barrels per day (bpd) Tula refinery by 2018 - if the project is finally authorized by PEMEX - as part of an urgent plan for modernizing its domestic network that also includes building the $10 billion Bicentenario refinery with 250,000 bpd capacity.

That would allow the state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) to produce more finished products for the domestic market, which increased demand to 2.15 million bpd in 2012, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data.

The country is importing half of its gasoline and one-third of its natural gas, which may well cause a deeper loss for its refinery business this year.

Mexico imported from the United States 505,000 bpd of fuels in the first eight months of 2013, about one-quarter of its total consumption, according to EIA.

PEMEX expects to more than double its annual investment budget to $60 billion if President Enrique Pena Nieto wins approval for a proposed oil reform. That would help the country finish delayed downstream projects crucial for processing its heavy crudes.

BRAZIL

With consumption of 2.8 million bpd, Brazil has the region's biggest domestic market. Its rising crude production cannot be fully handled by its refinery network.

Even though Brazil has benefited from its well-developed biofuels industry, it is struggling to limit fuel imports as its refineries operate at full capacity and new projects to process domestic heavy crudes suffer delays.

A joint 230,000 bpd refinery with Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) in northeastern Brazil, announced in 2005, will be finally developed by Petrobras after it abandoned a partnership with Venezuela's state-run PDVSA for the $18 billion project.

COLOMBIA

Although it is a growing exporter of medium and heavy crudes, Colombia has increased fuel purchases from the United States to satisfy more than a quarter of its 287,000 bpd internal consumption.

The Andean country's fuel imports from the United States grew 43 percent to 107,000 bpd this year compared with 2012, displacing Venezuela as the third-largest Latam fuel importer behind Mexico and Brazil.

But with the Cartagena refinery expansion project advancing to 80 percent completion this year, state-owned Ecopetrol expects to add 85,000 bpd to the country's refining capacity. The Barrancabermeja refinery is also being upgraded to process a bigger volume of heavy local crude.

ECUADOR

Ecuador, whose oil production is stagnant, is a net importer of U.S. fuels, which are used to meet almost a third of the domestic consumption of 210,000 bpd.

Efforts to upgrade its main refinery, the 110,000 bpd Esmeraldas, and build a new 300,000 bpd facility on the Pacific Coast with PDVSA, have faced numerous obstacles including a lack of funding.

With an investment budget of $12.5 billion, the Pacific project has barely started, according to state-run Petroecuador's website. Esmeraldas has been stopped since February because of expansion work, forcing Ecuador to import more finished fuels this year.

VENEZUELA

While delaying its overseas joint refining projects, Venezuelan PDVSA has also not made concrete progress expanding its 1.3 million bpd domestic refining network.

The company has three new refineries planned for its portfolio, as well as the expansion of two medium-sized units.

But it has postponed the inauguration dates. It now plans to add some 25,000 bpd of capacity by 2015 and 140,000 bpd by 2016.

The Venezuelan refining network was designed to satisfy domestic demand of 770,000 bpd and export finished products.

But lack of maintenance and a severe explosion last year in the main refinery, Amuay, limit current processing rates. That has forced PDVSA to import components and finished products, even as internal demand grows quickly because of gasoline subsidies and the installation of more thermoelectrical plants.

PERU

It is the only Latin American country with a surplus of refining capacity, but flat domestic oil production and outdated refining technology force the country to import crude and fuels.

Internal demand of 171,000 bpd is growing fast due to an economy that has boomed over the last decade.

Purchases of finished products, including ultra low-sulfur diesel, from the United States increased 22 percent this year compared with 2012. A third of fuels now sold in Peru are imported.

Work to upgrade the 65,000 bpd Talara refinery of state-run Petroperu has been pending for years amid concerns over costs.

Its other main refineries include the 15,000 bpd Conchan refinery of Petroperu and the 102,000 bpd Pampilla refinery of Spanish Repsol.

(Reporting by Marianna Parraga in Houston; editing by Terry Wade and Matthew Lewis)