The U.S. has received up to 50 requests for individual licenses from companies aiming to do business in Venezuela's oil industry following the expiration of a general authorization granted last year to the sector, the chief of the U.S. mission for Venezuela said late on May 22.

The U.S. Treasury Department in mid-April said it would not renew the broader general license that had eased restrictions to conduct oil and gas business in Venezuela because the government had not met conditions for a competitive presidential election. Washington committed instead to issuing individual licenses for companies in the oil sector.

Venezuela, which has the world's largest proven crude reserves, remains under U.S. sanctions since 2019 following President Nicolas Maduro's re-election, which was not recognized by most Western countries.

Licenses are needed for a wide range of energy activities including investing, authorizing oil exports and imports, exploring for oil and gas and negotiating contracts and payments.

Earlier this month, France-based oil producer Maurel & Prom said it received one of those individual licenses to expand business with Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA, but many others are waiting for approval.

According to guidance by the U.S. State Department to Treasury, Washington aims to prioritize issuing licenses to companies with existing oil output and assets over those seeking to enter the sanctioned OPEC nation for the first time, sources told Reuters last week.

"There is an amount of license requests, I believe between 20 and 50. We are progressively reviewing them," Francisco Palmieri, Chief of the U.S. Mission for Venezuela, told news website Efecto Cocuyo in an interview broadcast late on May 22.

"The oil sector is very important to reactivate Venezuela's economy, but the most important thing of all is the election of July 28th," Palmieri added.

He did not mention the petitioners' names or say if they will be approved.

The requests include those of up to 16 companies that have agreed to new or expanded oil and gas joint ventures with PDVSA, officials in Venezuela have said.

British oil major BP said on May 22 that negotiations with Venezuela on an offshore gas project to be shared with Trinidad and Tobago have been paused since the U.S. general license that authorized the talks expired.

Palmieri also said that diplomatic channels with Maduro's government remain open, including talks on migration and the economy. On the election, he said the U.S. expects massive participation and is hopeful that international groups will be allowed to oversee the process.