Venezuela’s Gamble Poses US Energy Security Risk

State-owned oil company’s debt default could lead to sale of US oil company to Russia’s Rosneft.

Cash-strapped Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA has staved off default for now by making $2.2 billion in bond payments on April 12. However, analysts caution that default is still possible later this year when another $3.5 billion of PDVSA debt comes due, potentially putting US oil company Citgo at risk of falling into Russian hands.

PDVSA put up a 49.9% stake in Houston-based Citgo as collateral for a $1.5 billion loan from Russian oil company Rosneft last December. “We are extremely concerned that Rosneft’s control of a major US energy supplier could pose a grave threat to American energy security, impact the flow and price of gasoline for American consumers and expose critical US infrastructure to national security threats,” a group of senators led by Republican Marco Rubio of Florida and Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey wrote in a letter last month to US treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin, who chairs the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US.

Citgo owns three large US refineries and processes more than half of Venezuela’s exports of superheavy oil. The company also owns pipelines and approximately 5,900 US gas stations.

“Given Russia’s interference in the US election and ongoing meddling in European elections, not to mention its habit of invading and bullying its neighbors, the last thing the United States should be doing is handing the Kremlin a significant ownership share in a major US energy supplier,” Menendez says.

Rosneft, which is run by one of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s closest allies, Igor Sechin, has filed a lien in Delaware saying it has the right to claim the ownership stake in Citgo if PDVSA defaults. The Citgo collateral deal is already being challenged in court by US and Canadian oil and mining companies, which say PDVSA owes them many billions of dollars.