The urgency was ignored. The Government postponed the general shutdown of the Esmeraldas Refinery, despite the fact that its repairs are urgent, according to Petroecuador estimates.
Since the beginning of the year, the general management of the state oil company announced that on August 16 there would be one for the refinery total to deal with problems, among others, of ventilation of units and steam leaks. The then manager, Carlos Tejada, warned that the suspension was urgent because the work had to be repaired to avoid major complications that put the total operation at risk. It could not be postponed, he said.
The current administration, however, did not give way to the general. According to an official statement, the new date to resume repair work will be March 2019.
This Journal consulted the reasons for the suspension. A statement explained that “the contractor company, responsible for providing the pipes, has had delays in the provision of the same, which has prolonged its manufacture, shipment, customs clearance, transportation and delivery.” Petroecuador says it will charge fines.
Within the state, however, it transpired that the main reason to contradict the advice and technical warnings is that the Government cannot spend more money on the import of petroleum products. Without the refinery operating for 54 days it would be necessary to buy fuels.
They are not cheap purchases. In the first half of the year, for example, Petroecuador allocated 2,152.8 million dollars for the purchase of derivatives. The amount represents 48.25% more than what was spent for the same acquisitions in the first half of last year.
That amount was reached with the refinery operating. That is, with the stoppage the budget should increase.
For the ex-superintendent of the Esmeraldas Refinery, Edmundo Brown, the stoppage would cost at least 400 million dollars. Money that the government does not currently have.
The amount that should be allocated to the import could be even higher depending on the time of year. Tejada planned the stoppage in August because, as he said in January, the price of derivatives is lower in summer. The new schedule establishes that it will be March, a month with a rise in the cost of refined products worldwide.
The obligatory for the refinery coincides, in addition, with other paralyzes -programmed and accidental- that the plant has had in this year. As EXPRESO published on July 28, the Esmeraldas Refinery stopped 25 times between January and June of this year. Most were partial suspensions of units.
There were also electrical failures. Three paras of this year responded to problems with the power of the National Interconnected System (SNI) or accidents such as the fall of a lightning bolt or a snake on the cables of the refinery.
The plant was supposedly re-powered by the Rafael Correa government. 2,200 million dollars were spent, but failures persist.
The Esmeraldas Refinery produced, in the first half of this year, 21,871,733 barrels of derivatives. Last year, in the same period, they were 21’336,468 barrels. That is, there was a 2.5% increase in production.
The production of gasoline, according to the statistical report of the public company Petroecuador, also increased this year. In the period in question, 5,599,737 barrels of gasoline were refined. 14.4% more than in the first half of 2017.
Not everything was increase. The Esmeraldas Refinery contracted its production of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). In 2017, it produced 836,667 barrels of domestic gas. This year, instead, they were 683,160. 18.3% less. (I)