By the end of 2019, Venezuelan crude oil output is expected to plummet to 700,000 b/d, making it likely that it will produce less than the US state of New Mexico.
“We’ve never seen an industry or a country collapse this fast and this hard,” said EIA analyst Lejla Villar in a recent interview with the S&P Global Platts Capitol Crude podcast. “We’ve never seen anything like this.”
The downfall of Venezuela’s chief industry, coupled with International Monetary Fund predictions that inflation in the country will skyrocket to 1 million percent by the end of this year, have created an unusual scenario, in which Maduro may even welcome US sanctions on its oil sector. As Venezuela’s economy continues to unravel, leading to surging prices and rampant hunger, Maduro could try to pin the blame on sanctions.
“If you break it, you buy it,” said George David Banks, a former international energy and environment adviser to President Trump. “The White House doesn’t want to own this crisis.”
The US has sanctioned individuals in Venezuela, including Maduro; prohibited the purchase and sale of any Venezuelan government debt, including any bonds issued by PDVSA; and banned the use of the Venezuela-issued digital currency known as the petro. But oil sector sanctions are viewed as the most powerful penalty remaining and one the Trump administration is more hesitant than ever to use.
“There’s already a humanitarian crisis, but we don’t own that, the Maduro government owns that,” Banks said. “We don’t want to lose the people of Venezuela and you don’t want to pursue a policy that jeopardizes that.”
David Goldwyn, president of Goldwyn Global Strategies and a former special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs at the US State Department, speculated that it would take extreme action, such as a military assault on a civilian rebellion, for the US to now impose oil sector sanctions. “The system is collapsing and this administration does not want to own the collapse,” Goldwyn said.
The path ahead for Venezuela’s oil sector has, likely, never been less certain. And it remains to be seen what a full collapse of an economy looks like. It is clear, however, that the US wants to avoid blame for accelerating that collapse and has abandoned, at least for now, consideration of oil sanctions.
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