- - Monday, March 12, 2012

BUENOS AIRES — China has poured billions of dollars into Venezuela’s oil sector to expand its claim over the country’s massive oil reserves.

But Beijing is getting relatively little for its investments, and Chinese officials are increasingly frustrated with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, according to energy analysts and former managers of the state oil company, Petroleum of Venezuela, or PDVSA as it’s known by its Spanish acronym.

Mr. Chavez, who is battling a life-threatening recurrence of cancer, said his goal is to send 1 million barrels of oil a day to China, which has given Venezuela more than $30 billion in loans and promised billions of dollars more in energy investments by 2016.

PDVSA claims to send 410,000 barrels a day to Chinese markets, the bulk of which is used to pay back the loans.

Already this year, PDVSA has announced that Citic Group Corp., China’s largest state-owned investment company, will acquire a 10 percent stake in the Petropiar heavy-crude project held with PDVSA and U.S.-based Chevron Corp. It also said that the China Development Bank will spend $4 billion to help boost production in a joint venture with China National Petroleum Corp., or CNPC.

The Chinese bank and the Venezuelan government also have agreed to renew a $6 billion bilateral investment fund, of which $2 billion will help boost PDVSA production.

But Tom O’Donnell, an oil analyst who teaches at the New School University and writes an oil-industry blog, the Global Barrel, said the payoffs of China’s loans amount to a “consolation prize.”

He said China’s goal is not to get oil for loans, but to have its own national oil companies contract for major oil-production projects in Venezuela’s Orinoco Tar Sands, the largest single known petroleum reserve in the world, with 513 billion barrels of heavy crude oil.

Chinese displeased

“The Chinese have not gotten the kind of preferential access they want [to the tar sands], and my sources tell me they are extremely unhappy,” said Mr. O’Donnell.

In 2010, CNPC signed a deal to help Venezuela develop a major Orinoco oil field known as Junin 4, which includes the construction of a facility to convert heavy oil to a lighter crude that could be shipped to a refinery in Guangdong, China.

“Although the contract was signed in December 2010, not one barrel of oil has yet been produced, much less upgraded,” said Gustavo Coronel, a former PDVSA board member.

“So far, nothing much seems to be happening, except for the arrival of a large group of Chinese staff to the CNPC’s Caracas office,” he added, referring to the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.

“Apart from money, there seems to be little that China can offer Venezuela in the oil industry,” he said, adding that a “culture gap will make working with China very difficult for Venezuelan oil people, who were mostly trained in the U.S.”

Erica Downs, a former energy analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency now with the Brookings Institution in Washington, said the Junin-4 project could be key to China’s future in Venezuela.

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