An ‘Experiment’ Allows the Santiago de Cuba Refinery To Process Heavy Crude

Hindered by the stampede of its workers and the lack of fuel, the plant didn’t function for several years / Sierra Maestra

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 April 2024 — Paralyzed since 2021 and after a stampede by its employees, the Hermanos Díaz refinery in Santiago de Cuba has come out of its lethargy thanks to an unusual “adaptation.” Despite the fact that its facilities are designed to process light crude oil, the managers have decided that it will have to refine the heavy crude by diluting it until it becomes ’medium’. Interviewed by the official media Sierra Maestra, the engineer who designed the “innovation,” Víctor Manuel Díaz, did not give too many details about the process or explain how the “experiment” has been going since it began. The refinery uses a solvent – he didn’t give the name or origin – to dilute the crude oil.

“What is being done in the Hermanos Díaz has allowed, to the extent possible, the provision to the eastern provinces of hydrocarbon, gasoline, fuel for drilling wells, fuel oil for thermoelectric power plants and distributed generation, as well as the production of asphalt and the industrial processing of nickel,” Díaz stated.

The Santiago newspaper did not seem as interested in the plant’s technical process as in remarking on the fact that the refinery’s revival immediately stopped “the emigration of qualified personnel,” who were leaving for other Cupet positions, going to private companies or leaving the country.

The fact that the refinery was working again stopped “the emigration of qualified personnel”   

According to Díaz, the plant is now making money, allowing 700 workers to be paid, and several are earning up to 12,000 pesos “in the distribution of profits that are generated.” The managers enthusiastically congratulate themselves on their success, although they do not dare to predict how long the plant will be able to distribute fuel to both the eastern provinces and Camagüey under those conditions.

They clarify, of course, that the refinery has had 70 years of operation and almost no maintenance. The first floor – the most useful and also the most damaged of the Hermanos Díaz – continues to need a capital repair. The rest of the facilities present similar problems, despite the “aspirations and achievements” declared by the managers.

The urgency of processing less heavy crude oil, alluded to by the managers in Sierra Maestra, coincides with several pessimistic articles about the supply of light crude oil to Cuba. This March, Venezuela sent 34,000 barrels per day to the Island, but not of the best quality, which Caracas prefers to sell in the international market, according to Reuters.

Mexico, which sent two of its best crude oils to Cuba – the Isthmus and Olmeca variants – provided 1,970,000 barrels in the first months of the year. According to Jorge Piñón, a specialist at the University of Texas, Mexico has ceded its role of being Cuba’s energy “lifeguard” to Russia. Moscow sent a ship with 90,000 tons of oil to Havana, the second in March, to alleviate the fuel crisis, on which the Government blames all the country’s problems.

Havana could be experiencing this April “the end of the supply agreement between Mexico and Cuba  

Piñón believes that Havana could be experiencing this April “the end of the supply agreement between Mexico and Cuba, about which the details are unknown.”

One of the keys to the movement of the crude on the Island, says Piñón, is the flame coming from the smokestack of the Ñico López refinery in Havana. As of today – noted this Saturday by 14ymedio – it remains off, but when “the flame advises” the specialist alleges, it will mean that the Russian crude discharged in Matanzas by the ship NS Concord is now being processed. “It will take a few days,” he calculates.

Another ship, detected by maritime tracking applications, has set off alarms. This is the heavy cargo ship OK, which sailed from Istanbul on February 16 and arrived in Havana on March 30. “It is anchored next to the Turkish floating power plants,” says Piñón, alluding to the well-known patanas of the Karpowership company.

“The heavy cargo ships are semi-submersible,” he adds. “Using water as ballast to increase their draft (water depth) allows the deck to be submerged under the surface of the water. In this way, cargo can be placed on deck, and equipment of great weight or size can be transported.”

What is the OK carrying? It could be a new Turkish patana leased by the Government but not reported, perhaps destined to accompany or replace some of those that already exist, says Piñón.

On the other hand, the Island’s National Electric System is still hanging by a thread. The technical director of the Electric Union acknowledged that the investment that Cuba would need to repair its battered thermoelectric plants could amount to 10 billion dollars. The figure, Piñón and other specialists think, is not absurd.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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