Major oil companies begin pulling workers out of Venezuela

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(Bloomberg) Repsol SA pulled all foreign workers from its oil fields in Venezuela amid a deepening political crisis, while Chevron Corp. and Total SA have removed a small number of employees, said people with knowledge of the companies. Norway’s Statoil ASA has withdrawn its expatriate staff.

Repsol field workers left the country in the past few weeks, two people said, asking not to be identified discussing a confidential matter. A skeleton staff remains in Caracas, one of the people said. Chevron has removed fewer than 10 foreign employees and retains a substantial expatriate workforce there, said people with knowledge who weren’t authorized to discuss the operations. Statoil withdrew its last three foreign workers before the July 30 election, Erik Haaland, a company spokesman said.

The departure of workers will be a concern to the government because oil output, which has tumbled over the past two years, accounts for 95 percent of Venezuela’s foreign-currency earnings. Repsol gets about 10 percent of its production from the country, where it owns a stake in the Carabobo heavy-oil field. The Spanish company also is a partner in the Perla project, Latin America’s largest offshore gas deposit, together with Eni SpA.

A spokesman for Rome-based Eni said the company is keeping only essential expatriate personnel in the country. It isn’t currently considering an evacuation but continues to monitor the situation, he said.

Several Chevron expatriates who were traveling outside of Venezuela have been told not to immediately return, according to one of the people. Employees whose assignments were scheduled to end within the next six months had their contracts cut short, and some were asked to do Venezuela-related work remotely from the U.S. or other countries, the person said.

Chevron, in an emailed statement, said it doesn’t comment on “security or personnel issues.”

Return Possible

Total, the French oil giant, removed more than 10 staff members, including five managers, the person said. Employees will be allowed to return to Venezuela if the situation improves, the person said. The company didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment after business hours.

Violence escalated ahead of the July vote to elect members of the constituent assembly, with the opposition denouncing the move as a power-grab by President Nicolas Maduro. While the election faced accusations of fraud, including from the company that provided voting machines for the ballot, the new assembly convened last week. One of its first actions was to remove the chief prosecutor, who had been critical of the government.

Repsol still has Venezuelan citizens working at its operations, one of the people said, without specifying how many foreign staff had been in the country. Statoil also still has Venezuelans at its sites, Haaland said.

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