Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA has signed a deal with little-known U.S. energy firm Erepla, partly owned by a prominent Florida Republican, to help increase the socialist-run country’s plummeting crude oil output, the company said.
Erepla Services LLC, with an undisclosed stake held by Republican Harry Sargeant III and which Delaware state records show was only registered in November, said it plans to invest up to $500 million to increase production at three Venezuelan oil fields in exchange for a portion of the crude produced.
Sargeant and Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., known as PDVSA have clashed in the past. Between 2006 and 2008, PDVSA was awarded $52 million after a company partly owned by Sargeant was accused of not paying for several crude shipments in 2002 and 2003, court records show.
The new arrangement faces significant hurdles, including obtaining an exemption from Trump administration sanctions that block U.S. companies from providing financing to the government of President Nicolas Maduro or Venezuelan state firms.
It is a further sign that Venezuela is tapping inexperienced firms to stem massive declines in crude output as more established oil companies steer clear of the troubled country due to concerns about U.S. sanctions and overall dysfunction.
Erepla said the agreement will “revitalize oil production” at the Tia Juana Lago and Rosa Mediano fields in the western Lake Maracaibo region and in the Ayacucho 5 bloc, in the eastern heavy-oil Orinoco Belt.
The company added that the deal gives it “enhanced managerial participation” in the projects and will be responsible for procurement, a key difference from long-established joint ventures between PDVSA and oil majors like Chevron Corp, where PDVSA has full operational control.
Erepla said it would be “responsible for the entirety of the investment.” A spokesman declined to elaborate on how it would raise the funds.
Neither PDVSA nor the Oil Ministry responded to requests for comment.
The Erepla spokesman said Sargeant, who has served as finance chairman of the Florida Republican Party and runs asphalt trading and shipping firm Global Oil Management Group, owns a stake in Erepla, but declined to reveal the percentage.
The deal is the first new partnership between PDVSA and a private company since Oil Minister Manuel Quevedo in August announced a set of “joint service agreements” with 14 little-known companies that did not appear to have experience operating oilfields and PDVSA.
Those contracts were similar to ones rolled back under late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, who expanded the state’s role in the OPEC country’s energy industry.
Output has continued to stagnate since the deals were signed, dropping to 1.46 million barrels per day in November from more than 2 million at the end of last year, according to OPEC figures, in a sign of the company’s struggles under military rule.
Republicans denounce the plan as ‘raw deal.’
Project had been planned to be in service in January.
President Donald Trump is set to meet with five Caribbean leaders on March 22 who have sided with the United States and most Western countries in backing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as head of state.