毫不夸张地说，本周二乌戈•查韦斯之死震动了能源产业。十几年来，这个“玻利瓦尔主义”的强人都是石油业的最大恶棍。在委内瑞拉的总统任期内，查韦斯不仅撕毁合约，没收埃克森美孚（ExxonMobil）和康菲石油公司（ConocoPhillips）等国外石油公司的用地和设备；还设法压榨了国内的委内瑞拉石油公司（Petróleos de Venezuela），把它作为实施其所谓“21世纪社会主义”实验的项目和政策的金库。
The death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is no panacea for the nation's dysfunctional energy industry. Political and economic uncertainty will likely continue to deter foreign investors from fully committing the necessary cash, resources, and expertise that are desperately needed to effectively tap the nation's oil wealth. Whoever takes over the reins of the nation will need to dismantle the policies, structures, and rhetoric that have made investing in Venezuela a fool's errand.
It is not hyperbole to say that Hugo Chavez's death Tuesday rocked the energy industry. The "Bolivarian" strongman has been the oil industry's biggest villain for over a decade. In his tenure as president of Venezuela, Chavez not only trashed contracts and expropriated lands and equipment from foreign oil companies, like ExxonMobil (XOM) and ConocoPhillips (COP); he also managed to crush the national oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), by using it as a piggy bank to fund the programs and policies associated with his nebulously defined "21stCentury Socialism" experiment.
There was a time when Venezuela was seen as a bastion of liberalism -- an exception to the so-called resource curse, which posits that oil wealth fosters corrupt and dictatorial regimes. Its democratically-elected governments, while far from perfect, were seen as more stable than other oil-rich nations, such as those in the Middle East. This stability attracted foreign investors from around the globe, especially U.S. oil giants like ConocoPhillips and Chevron (CVX).
By the 1990s PDVSA and its foreign partners, which at the time included pretty much all the big U.S. and European oil giants, were pumping around three million barrels a day of oil from Venezuelan fields, making it the third-largest oil exporter in OPEC. PDVSA's long-term plan was to gradually increase its production capacity to around eight million barrels a day, which would have put Venezuela on par with oil exporting giants like Russia and Saudi Arabia.
But the ineptitude and corruption of the Chavez kleptocracy have contributed to a decline in overall Venezuelan oil output, which at last count came in at 2.4 million barrels a day, 25% less than what it was when Chavez took power 14 years ago. That would have been excusable if Venezuela's oil reserves were rapidly depleting, but that isn't the case -- not by a long shot. Indeed, in 2010, OPEC confirmed that Venezuela's Orinoco oil belt contained tar sand deposits equivalent to around 300 billion barrels of oil, enough to fulfill current world demand for 10 years. That would mean Venezuela would have the largest oil reserves on the planet, outstripping Saudi Arabia's 260 billion barrel oil stash.
With today's oil price being 10 times higher than where it was when Chavez took power in 1998, one would surmise that the Orinoco oil belt today would be littered with equipment and workers trying furiously to tap its abundant oil wealth. But, of course, that isn't the case. During his reign, Chavez instituted a series of devastating "reforms" to the nation's oil industry, which ended up breaking its back. He ripped up production sharing contracts signed under the previous government, forcing foreign oil companies to hand over more of their profit to the state.
Chavez then used PDVSA as his own personal ATM, starving the company of the necessary investment capital needed to expand its operations in the Orinoco. In 2011, PDVSA was left with just $11 billion, or 9%, of its total income, to fund future operations. That was barely enough to keep the lights on, let alone go out and enough to drill. By contrast, Pemex, Mexico's state owned-oil company (and all-around bureaucratic basket case), spent around $19 billion, or 17%, of its income on operations, while Brazil's Petrobras invested $42 billion, or 29%, of its income.
PDVSA says it will be investing some $140 billion in the Orinoco by 2015. It is hard to see how that can happen given how much the government is siphoning off. In January, Chavez ordered PDVSA to increase its payments to his off-the-books slush fund, Fonden, which is used to support the "revolution," further draining its resources. Lastly, the government has saddled PDVSA with around $35 billion in debt, slapping the company with fat interest payments, which will only augment its money woes.
But probably the fatal blow to Venezuelan oil investment came in 2007 when Chavez essentially "renationalized" the industry, booting out a number of foreign oil companies who refused to (once again) renegotiate their contracts, namely U.S. oil giants ExxonMobil and ConocoPhilips, which had each invested billions of dollars in the country since the early 1990s.