Fire at Venezuela refinery still burns

A fire burned for a third day in two fuel storage tanks at Venezuela’s biggest refinery today.

PARAGUANA — A fire burned for a third day in two fuel storage tanks at Venezuela’s biggest refinery today, putting in doubt plans to restart the facility quickly after one of the world’s deadliest oil industry accidents in recent history.

Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez said the blaze remained contained to the storage tanks. He has insisted that the Amuay refinery can be restarted within two days, once the flames have been put out.

“In the coming hours we are going to extinguish those tanks,” Ramirez told state TV, standing alongside a aerial photograph of the sprawling facility.

A gas leak caused an explosion and then a fire before dawn on Saturday at the 645,000 barrel-per-day facility, part of the world’s second biggest refinery complex. Nearby homes were obliterated, at least 41 people killed and dozens more wounded.

State oil company PDVSA said none of Amuay’s production units was affected and that Venezuela has enough stocks to meet its commitments to the domestic market and keep up exports.

President Hugo Chavez promised a full investigation into the tragedy during an emotional visit to the scene yesterday.

The incident is likely to support global fuel prices that already are being pushed higher by worries that Tropical Storm Isaac could suspend US oil production and hints of another round of monetary stimulus by the US Federal Reserve.

Ivan Freites, a union leader at the Paraguana complex, told Reuters it was not possible for the refinery to restart within two days of the blast, and he was sharply critical of officials who he accused of playing down the scale of the disaster.

“A refinery is not a coffee-maker,” he said. “They don’t understand the restart process. The managers are acting like political operatives … not thinking of the victim’s families.” (Reuters)

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