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By Marianna Parraga
HOUSTON (Reuters) - Venezuela's network of refineries is operating at 74 percent of capacity, running 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude, including the Isla unit, according to an internal report from state-owned PDVSA seen by Reuters on Friday.
A long chain of fires, small explosions and power cuts have hit Venezuelan refineries recently - in addition to a major explosion at the Amuay refinery last year.
The incidents have forced Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) to look for imported petroleum products - a growing trend that is impacting the country's balance of payments months after President Nicolas Maduro took office. Maduro, a critic of the United States, succeeded his deceased former mentor, Hugo Chavez.
One trader close to PDVSA purchases told Reuters this week that the company, which owns a chain of four domestic refineries and rents the 335,000 bpd Isla in Curacao, will import several cargoes of diesel and catalytic gasoline in the coming weeks to supply its internal market.
"The alkylation unit number 1 and TAME are down due to operational problems in Cardon. The vacuum unit number 3 continues shutdown due to the fire that occurred on August 13th", the report says.
The report adds that a chimney fire that occurred last week at Amuay did not impact the operations, but the catalytic cracker and one alkylation unit at the mid-sized El Palito refinery are working at reduced rate due to operational problems.
Puerto la Cruz, which is operating at almost full capacity, plans to restart its ultra low sulfur diesel (ULSD) hydrotreater unit at the end of August, according to the document.
Bajo Grande, the smallest refinery in Venezuela, with a capacity of 16,000 bpd and attached to the Paraguana Refining Center (CRP), is shutdown due to operational problems.
After several months of failures, Isla is still running partially due to frequent power and steam cuts.
The trader told Reuters that the Venezuelan purchases of finished fuels are now usual, since a severe explosion hit Amuay one year ago, leaving more than 40 people dead.
The four extra-heavy crude upgraders jointly operated by PDVSA and foreign companies are working at a rate of 81 percent, the report says, adding that no maintenance work is scheduled until the end of October.
(Reporting by Marianna Parraga; Editing by Terry Wade)