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Venezuela's crude sales to U.S. falls to 15-year low in February

HOUSTON, March 15 (Reuters) - Venezuela's crude exports to the United States declined in February to a 15-year low as oil production continues falling and President Donald Trump's administration weighs new sanctions on the OPEC country, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Financial sanctions imposed by the United States in August on Venezuela and state-run oil firm PDVSA have created obstacles for selling crude cargoes to U.S. refiners, shrinking the number of customers PDVSA has in the U.S.

In February, PDVSA and its joint ventures sent 21 cargoes to the United States - half the number it exported in recent years - with a total of 378,643 barrels per day (bpd) of crude, according to Reuters' Trade Flows data.

The exports were 21 percent lower than in January and 43 percent below the volume shipped in February of 2017.

The largest receiver of Venezuelan crude last month was PDVSA's refining unit in the United States, Citgo Petroleum, followed by refiner Valero Energy Corp and oil firm Chevron Corp.

Refining firms Phillips 66 and PBF Energy Inc , usually large buyers of Venezuelan crude, did not purchase cargoes from PDVSA last month, according to the data.

Venezuela's crude output fell almost 10 percent in February versus the previous month to 1.586 million bpd, its lowest volume since the 1950s, according to official figures reported to OPEC.

In 2017, Venezuela's average oil production declined to a 28-year low, pointing to a deepening economic crisis and increased chances of a debt default.

Lack of investment and financing, mismanagement, sanctions, and a brain drain are among the causes of the steep decline, which has particularly affected shipments to the United States.

Washington is closer to deciding whether to impose sanctions on Venezuelan oil, U.S. former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last month at the end of a five-nation tour of Latin America. (Reporting by Marianna Parraga Editing by Marguerita Choy)