HOUSTON, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Venezuelan crude sales to the United States increased to 817,806 barrels per day (bdp) in July, the highest level since November, due to larger exports of grades produced in the vast Orinoco Belt, according to Thomson Reuters trade flows data.
The South American nation's July shipments to the United States were 25 percent higher than in June and 12 percent more than in the same month in 2015. Falling output and delays at Venezuela's main oil port had kept exports low in recent months.
The United States received 50 crude cargoes from state-run oil firm PDVSA and its joint ventures in July, versus 39 the previous month. Valero Energy was the largest recipient, followed by PDVSA refining unit Citgo Petroleum, Phillips 66 and Chevron Corp.
Occasional buyers of Venezuelan oil including Lukoil Panamericas and Marathon Petroleum also received shipments in July, according to the data, which is based on preliminary figures.
Exports of Merey blend, mainly made with Venezuelan extra heavy crude and imported diluents, showed a significant increase. Shipments of Hamaca crude produced in the Orinoco Belt by PDVSA and Chevron reached their highest level in more than 18 months.
PDVSA President Eulogio Del Pino last month confirmed that the OPEC-member country's oil production has declined by 220,000 barrels per day (bpd) this year, or around 7.5 percent, to 2.8 million bpd, but he added the fall has been contained through a "sustaining plan".
Falling output of crude and natural gas liquids(NGL) and delays to discharge cargoes of imported diluents have led to fewer exports this year, at a time when Venezuela is hungry for the U.S. dollars needed to stabilize its ailing economy.
But shipments to the United States - Venezuela's top oil customer - only declined 6 percent in the first seven months of 2016 versus the same period of 2015, according to Thomson Reuters data. (Reporting by Marianna Parraga; Editing by Paul Simao)