Monday, April 03, 2006

Thanks Hugo...Hoser

Canada benefits from Venezuela's export of petroleum engineers:

CALGARY - Five years ago, Pedro Pereira Almao was developing a long-term technology strategy for Venezuela's national oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA.

The France-educated PhD was so well respected in Venezuela's oilpatch he had also been appointed director of the key heavy-oil section for his country's massive oilsands research facility in steamy Caracas.

But a campaign by Venezuela's leftist leader, Hugo Chavez, to tighten his grip on the country's oil industry led to mass firings.

Mr. Pereira Almao was among those who were forced out, and now Mr. Chavez's loss is Canada's huge gain.

....The world-renowned expert in an area of chemistry known as heterogeneous catalysis is 16 months into the development of an oilsands research facility at the University of Calgary -- the only one of its kind in North America -- part of a push to turn the oilsands green by transferring a lot of the refining work to beneath the surface. Their efforts might also make the industry more sustainable by reducing the reliance on natural gas and making the overall process more efficient.

He hopes that some day the Alberta Ingenuity Centre for In Situ Energy at the University of Calgary will rival the large and elaborate institution he was fired from in 2002.

.... "For the moment, Canada is in a very privileged position because of [Hugo Chavez]," Mr. Pereira Almao said in a recent interview.

"Canada will expand its marketing of heavy oils and I don't think Venezuela is going to grow.

"Every new investment there takes about that amount of time to really get into the market. It could be 50 years before you see real activity and real growth in the Venezuelan oil industry again."

Mr. Pereira Almao and his former colleagues at Petroleos de Venezuela SA, known as PDVSA, were on the cusp of commercializing a technology, in partnership with U.S.-based Foster Wheeler, to move tonnes of gooey Venezuelan bitumen by pipeline without the use of an expensive diluent, a thinner.

....Using a "steam cracking technology" that uses water instead of hydrogen, the PDVSA researchers were able to produce heavy oil with enough viscosity that it didn't need diluent to be shipped.

But the rug was pulled out from under the project in 2002, following the two-month strike opposing the government that shut down a large part of Venezuela's oil industry.

In its wake, 22,000 employees of PDVSA, about 70% of the company's workforce, were fired.
At the country's research centre, which at a high point was home to 1,600 employees, all of its PhDs were let go. In total, roughly 80% of the staff left, and were replaced by less experienced people loyal to the Chavez regime.

....The government's paranoia sparked an exodus of talent.

"Everyone has left, gone to Mexico, the U.S., Europe and to Canada -- many of my colleagues are in Calgary, Edmonton and Fort McMurray," Mr. Pereira Almao said. He does not intend to return while Chavez has control.

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