U.S. crude imports from Venezuela grind to a halt after sanctions

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. crude imports from Venezuela dropped to zero last week, for the first time on record, preliminary data from the Energy Information Administration showed on Wednesday.

Imports from Venezuela, historically one of the biggest suppliers of crude to the United States, have slumped from about 587,000 barrels per day (bpd) in late January after Washington hit Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government, his political allies and the country’s state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., or PDVSA, with a series of sanctions.

PDVSA also faced disruptions at its primary port, the lifeblood of the OPEC member’s economy, due to a massive power outage that began a week earlier.

Venezuela may divert oil originally bound for the United States to Russian oil company Rosneft or other destinations due to the sanctions, Venezuelan oil minister and president of PDVSA Manuel Quevedo said this week.

Supplies of heavy crude, similar to grades produced in Venezuela, have dried up around the world amid production curtailments in Canada due to pipeline bottlenecks and output cuts by Middle East producers.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) this week scrapped its planned meeting in April, effectively extending supply cuts that have been in place since January until at least June, when the next meeting is scheduled.

Weekly crude shipments from Saudi Arabia fell to 407,000 bpd last week, near the lowest level on record of 346,000 bpd hit in late February, according to the data.

Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in New York; Editing by Richard Chang and Diane Craft

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