Venezuela is seeking to remove Exxon Mobil as the operator of its joint-venture refinery in Chalmette, Louisiana, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said Wednesday.
The move escalates the OPEC nation's battle with the biggest publicly traded oil company sparked by Venezuela's takeover of a multibillion-dollar oil project last year.
"We are going to look for another operator in Chalmette," Ramirez told reporters.
Asked if Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA would be that operator, Ramirez said: "It cannot be Exxon."
Venezuela already has stopped selling crude oil to Exxon after the company attempted to freeze $12 billion of foreign assets owned by Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA to secure compensation for the nationalized oil project.
Exxon Mobil spokeswoman Margaret Ross said the company continues to operate the 190,000 barrel per day refinery "in a safe and environmentally sound manner."
"We're not going to comment on the specifics of contracts. We remain open to meaningful discussions with PDVSA," she added.
Exxon Mobil is the operator of Chalmette and shares ownership of the plant equally with PDVSA.
Venezuelan and Exxon officials have said that PDVSA could relinquish its stake in Chalmette as a way of compensating Exxon for its stake in the Cerro Negro heavy crude oil project that government of leftist President Hugo Chavez took over last year.
Exxon insists it is due at least $5 billion, while PDVSA says it values those assets at less than $1 billion.