Venezuela buys the U.S. gas at a market rate but sells it to its nation’s drivers at a huge discount: Fuel prices in Venezuela are the cheapest in the world at between 9 and 19 cents a gallon.
The Venezuelan state oil company also spends billions of dollars each year on social programs inside the country and, through its retail arm Citgo, has even run a heating oil assistance program for poor Americans. That’s included millions of dollars in free heating fuel for Northeastern states and rural Alaskan villages.
A Citgo spokesman said there’s no information on whether the U.S. assistance program, which already has seen cutbacks in recent years, will happen this winter.
Venezuela remains the fourth-largest supplier of imported crude oil and petroleum products to the United States. But that’s on the decline with America’s boom of domestic energy and Venezuela’s efforts to increase sales to China and other nations. Venezuela’s oil minister asserts the nation’s industry is sound and production will swell with oil from the Orinoco Belt in southeastern Venezuela.
Venezuela is working with Chevron and the Spanish firm Repsol on efforts to drill in the Orinoco Belt, but analysts say the oil there is extra heavy, difficult and expensive to extract.
Pedro Burelli, a former board member of the Venezuelan state oil company, predicted that after Chavez dies Venezuelans will be shocked to learn of the “disaster” the company has become. Whoever is in charge will be forced to either make a speech about cutting social programs or one about bringing in foreign investment, he said.
Chavez’s charisma has helped distract from a real debate in the country about oil, he said. “The moment Chavez dies, a lot of what’s happening in Venezuela will come to light,” Burelli said.