CARACAS, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA said on Friday that Maroil Trading Inc has won a $138 million contract to remove a large pile of petroleum coke at the Jose solids terminal in the eastern state of Anzoategui.
Petcoke, a byproduct of upgrading tar-like Orinoco oil into lighter crude, has accumulated quickly at Jose since a 2009 fire temporarily halted its export. The large black dunes have drawn criticism from environmentalists and nearby communities.
PDVSA rejects environmental criticism as a smear campaign by enemies of Venezuela’s socialist government.
The company has awarded several contracts to clean up the petcoke mounds in recent years, but little progress has been made, according to union sources and workers at Jose.
Maroil is run by Venezuelan shipping magnate Wilmer Ruperti, according to the businessman’s LinkedIn profile.
Ruperti rose to prominence during a 2002-2003 oil industry shutdown by providing shipping services that helped late President Hugo Chavez regain control of the sector. He has since become a vocal supporter of the ruling Socialist Party.
Opposition critics frequently describe Ruperti as an opportunist who has used political connections to obtain business deals.
Neither Maroil nor Ruperti could immediately be reached for comment.
PDVSA did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the company, the petcoke’s commercialization or the time frame for the removal of the pile.
Details of the tender were not immediately available.
PDVSA said 2.5 tonnes of petcoke are derived from every 100 barrels of upgraded extra-heavy crude from the oil-rich Orinoco Belt. The international price of the product is about $35 per tonne, it added. (Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga in Houston; Editing by Matthew Lewis)