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Oil refining in Latin America: Sluggish progress amid rising costs

Oil refining in Latin America: Sluggish progress amid rising costs

Amid a shifting global oil market and ambitious plans in China and Asia to expand refining capacities, Latin America stands out for its inability to make progress with implementation of new refining infrastructure to match its plans to increase oil production. The region's main producers all face numerous political and structural obstacles that are preventing them from making as much progress as they would like, which means they are unlikely to fulfill their minimum goals of self-sufficiency in refined fuels any time soon. In fact, only Brazil has significant concrete projects in the works and even they have been affected by delays and cost overruns, as have the few other projects planned for the region.


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Some progress being made
While international agencies have noted that little has been done in Latin America to significantly boost refining capacity, there has been some movement, with works due to go ahead or already underway in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil, despite various delays.

Winds of change in Mexico?
Mexican state oil firm Pemex is weighed down by high costs, a restrictive legal framework and the fact that over 90% of its operating profits are paid to the state. However, despite past failures to reform the oil sector, all major political sectors in the country now seem to have realized that change is necessary and they appear to have tacitly agreed to resolve the issue before the end of 2013.

Big plans for Brazil
For its part, Brazil is the only country in the region with concrete plans to build new refineries over the coming years, with capacity of some 1.6 Mbpd planned to come online through 2020. Petrobras has been warning for some time that its refining capacities were reaching their limits and that urgent investments were needed. Thus, its 2013-2017 business plan anticipates US$43.2 billion in investments in downstream activities.

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