(Reuters) – Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA said on Wednesday that oil spills in the nation’s western Lake Maracaibo were under control and that clean-up operations would be completed within a month.
Shipping sources told Reuters earlier this month that several spills in the lake had forced PDVSA to anchor at least five U.S.-bound oil tankers for cleaning.
Those tankers are now back in service and PDVSA said the environmental impact on the area, where the Latin American OPEC member produces much of its crude, had not been severe.
“While there has been a moderate impact caused by small leaks, the situation is under control,” PDVSA’s Environmental Director Ramiro Ramirez said in a statement.
He added that the company was making progress in its clean-up work, but did not give details of how much oil was spilled or how much had been collected.
“In no more than four weeks the clean-up operation will be completed in the affected areas,” he said.
Oil minister Rafael Ramirez later said that the no more than 8 barrels a day of oil was spilled in the recent leaks. He said the lake, which has produced oil since the 1920s, was filled with abandoned oil machinery and had thousands of kilometers (miles) of tubes snaked “like spaghetti” in its bed.
Environmental Director Ramirez said there had been leaks at five flow stations in the lake’s Urdaneta field and blamed them on thieves vandalizing the installations to steal power cables and other equipment.
The spills, which were first detected at the start of June, were initially denied by PDVSA. It later acknowledged there was a problem after local media broadcast images of leaking crude.
Last week, an opposition lawmaker who heads the legislative council of local Zulia state demanded the resignation of Venezuela’s energy and environment ministers over the case.
President Hugo Chavez nationalized 76 oil service companies in the Maracaibo area last year. Experts say the lake has the potential to produce up to 1 million barrels per day of oil, but that its rate of decline has accelerated since then.
Small spills in Maracaibo — which is one of Venezuela’s oldest oil production regions — are common. While the government has often promised to restore the local ecosystem, its efforts so far appear to have had little impact.
(Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Michael Urquhart)