OREANDA-NEWS. November 07, 2016. Gasoline is increasingly scarce outside of Venezuela capital of Caracas, where the government is under pressure to keep a lid on widespread protests.

The gasoline shortages, evident in up to 15 of the country's 23 states, are a symptom of state-owned PdV declining crude production, dilapidated refineries and loss of cash flow, according to oil union leaders, local government officials and service station operators contacted by Argus.

As the deficit has widened in recent months, PdV has started diverting some gasoline supplies to Caracas from other areas of the country.

Cars regularly line up for limited retail supplies where the subsidized fuel is still available. But the deficit could become critical nationwide unless PdV steps up imports and repairs gasoline production units quickly at its 635,000 b/d Amuay refinery, 146,000 b/d El Palito refinery and 190,000 b/d Puerto La Cruz refinery.

PdV's refineries, with a combined nameplate capacity of 1.3mn b/d, are processing about 523,745 b/d or barely 40.2pc of capacity this week, union officials who work at the company's four largest refineries said.

The 940,000 b/d CRP refining complex, which includes Amuay and the nearby 305,000 b/d Cardon refinery, is currently processing about a combined 442,615 or 47pc of nameplate.

Amuay this week reports an average crude run of 334,645 b/d or 52.7pc of nameplate, and Cardon is running 107,000 b/d or 35.4pc of nameplate.

Amuay's fluidized catalytic cracker, flexicoker and other units including two distillation plants are out of service. The FCC and flexicoker are not expected on line again until February 2017 after new equipment breakdowns in both units last week forced PdV to suspend restart protocols.

Cardon also has two distillation units and a naphtha reforming unit down, and its base oils unit has been out of service for over two years.

The El Palito refinery in Carabobo has been shut completely since April for a major turnaround that originally was scheduled for completion last month. But repairs are not finished yet, and both the energy ministry and PdV could not say when the refinery will restart operations.

The Puerto La Cruz refinery is currently processing 81,130 b/d or 42.7pc of nameplate after PdV was forced at end-October to divert to China the light and blended crude supplies originally earmarked for the refinery.

Diverting the crude feedstock meant for Puerto La Cruz forced PdV to shut two distillation units with a combined processing capacity of up to 112,000 b/d until mid-December at the earliest.

PdV?s chronic downstream deficiencies have forced the company to buy more finished gasoline from abroad. In August 2016, Venezuela imported 39,000 b/d of gasoline from the US, the highest monthly level since late 2012 when imports spiked after a major explosion at Amuay, according to data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

But PdV?s financial bind, exacerbated by the decline in oil prices over the past two years, has eroded its ability to pay for the imports.

Venezuela consumes around 260,000 b/d of gasoline, according to official data, but it is not clear how shortages, and a long tradition of fuel smuggling to neighboring Colombia, factor in.