Anzoátegui’s Black Dunes

CoqueI once called it “Anzoátegui’s unnatural wonder”: A large accumulation of petroleum coke, which is located outside PDVSA’s José Antonio Anzoátegui Petrochemical Complex (better known to the locals as Jose Refinery).

The coke mountain started way back in 2009 after a fire caused heavy damage to the docks used to transport the materials to export ships.

Six years later the coke mountain is still getting piled higher and higher.

A recent special report by newssite El Estimulo’s economy section (El Interés) tackles some questions like why the mountain remains there to this day and how much its very presence is costing us, both financially and environmentally.

After the 2009 fire, the dock’s transport line was never repaired; in exchange, trucks for heavy cargo were hired to move the coke remains from crude upgraders to outside patios… In recent years, several companies have received direct emergency allocations to move the coke inside the (Jose) complex.

The contractors have decided to pile up tons of coke in open terrain. Construction companies Urbano Fermín Compañía Anónima (Cuferca) and T&C Services are the two largest involved. The cost of hiring them has generated large expenses to the State and have received large amounts of money.”

That sort-of answers the first question. As for the second, the article mentions that local MP Carlos Michelangeli (MUD) calculated in October’14 that the country was losing 1,4 billion dollars for leaving the coke out on the open. Some of Jose’s workers are quite unhappy as well and denounced the existence of what they call “mafia del coque”. The National Assembly’s Oil Commision has opened an investigation (by Michelangeli’s request), but so far… nada.

With no solution in sight, perhaps the central government should try presenting it as a tourist attraction (a worker coined the term “medanos de coque” or coke dunes, in reference to its natural Coro counterpart). But there’s a couple of problems: The State doesn’t like folks taking pictures there and their tourism strategy is focused in something else.

34 thoughts on “Anzoátegui’s Black Dunes

  1. Is coke a bi-product of oil refining processes? if so, what was done with this residue before “red, reddy PDVSA”?


    • The heavy oil from the Faja is given or taken 8-12 °API, that is the viscosity of the oil. The lower the °API the heavy the oil. Our oil viscosity is similar to molasses, so it needs to be “upgraded” in order to sell. The upgraded oil is also called synthetic oil (not to be confused with organic sourced oil like biodiesel).Very light oil, similar to kerosene has about 40-45 °API. Most refineries feedstock need to be about 25-28 °API.

      Thus our Orinoco oil needs to be refined from 8 to 25 °API for marketing.Our upgrader complex in Jose does just that, hence the name in Spanish “mejorador”. The upgrader is a refinery but not in the full sense, there are not many products that come out as of a conventional refinery hence the name convention. The Jose complex was built to commercialize our heavy oil in the form of synthetic/upgraded oil in order to compete against sweet light oil from the Middle East. (Every time I write this stuff is just come to my mind how smart we were and how come we let all that go down the drain..but that is a different subject).

      A barrel of Orinoco heavy oil yields about 70-80% of synthetic (upgraded oil) that can be sold as refinery feedstock. The rest is byproducts as sulphur, gas and coke. Coke makes about 10% of the byproduct portion. The gas is burned (Chavez rejected the construction of a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant in 2002) and the sulphur is probably used in Pequiven as there are not (yet) mountains of the yellow smelly thing.

      Coke + iron=steel for those that may not know what is that for. The coke was originally commercialized to be used in the steel complexes of Guayana, as well as, Mexico and Argentina. I don’t recall if Japan and China were part of the coke commercialization scheme. The point is if there is low production of steel in Ferrominera and the export dock is busted then you get accumulation of coke at a pace of 1/10th of a barrel for each barrel we upgrade. Do your math…

      Last but not least. as the obtuse Venezuelan government continues to lose the heavy oil market; the vacuum is filled with Canadian oil which also has the same refining/coke issues. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that U.S. refineries produced in excess of 56 million metric tons of coke, of which 80% was exported. The problem there is that the coke from the Canadian oil is sold, our doesn’t.

      Environmentally speaking, coke is not necessarily harmful. Dust is the major problem combined with some emissions of some leftover hydrocarbons. But like everything in life, excess can be harmful.


      • I was under the impression that the kind of coke produced at Jose was so low grade that it could not be used on syderurgical processes , Venezuelan or otherwise. One big problem was disposing of the coke because it had no easy commercial outlet. The original plan as informed to me by a friend was to pay companies just to get rid of it and it was a surprise that for a while at least some people where willing to pay a very tiny amount to recieve it . (dont remember exactly what it was used for , maybe for processing to extract some metals but not for syderurgical use ) . The IEA tallies some 90% of the volume of upgraded extra heavy crude as crude oil or equivalent which means that the coke content is not considered part of the crude oil volume used in its statistics. Sulphur is a marketeable product specially for use in petrochemical activities. although if stored too long it can smolder . Ordinary coal if stored too long will sometime combust and produce danerous fires.


      • OITB: When was the Jose complex built? Who all (what international partners) were involved in its early development?


    • There is refinery in Jose. The coke is a byproduct of improving the extra heavy oil to light crude. Basically is tar and sulfur. It used to be exported, now they can’t because there is no way to load it into ships. And now it’s just another corrupt “business”.


  2. We actually burn it in one of our three generating stations here in NEFL. Special care is taken so that it doesn’t actually spill. We use covered beltways to transport it from ship to container domes. “Pet coke and coal travel from the ship to the domes in about twenty minutes, entirely inside a sealed system to prevent dust particles from escaping into the surrounding environment.” You can see the domes here:


    • The quality of the coke obtained from the Venezuelan upgraders is very poor , not subject to comercial use of any kind except ocassionally and in limited amounts . The facilities formerly existing to handle the coke were up to international standards and both well operated and maintained , Now having been destroyed they would have to be replaced and an experienced contractor brought in to handle the collection and disposal of the coke .!!


      • “The quality of the coke obtained from the Venezuelan upgraders is very poor ”

        You mean the Tons of cocaine from the Farc that we undercut as it goes through Vzla, of course.


      • The petcoke produced at Jose is usable as a substitute for coal in most coal fired power plants. It’s not a great feed for pulverized coal burners, because the high sulfur content which put a high load on pollution control equipments and its high hardness, which requires extra grinding. Also, the vanadium content can be a problem for corrosion control in some plants. So, typically, those plants prefer to use low sulfur bituminous coals. But the petcoke is easy to burn reasonably cleanly in fluidized bed furnaces. And it’s cheap.

        Otherwise, yes, it’s completely unsuitable for metallurgy. That petcoke has nothing to do with blast furnace coke. They just share the same generic name and a high carbon content. But the similarities stop here. And of course, it’s even less suitable as anode coke, for aluminum making, or electrode coke, for arc furnaces.

        So, it’s low value, sure. But there are many customers ready to offload that stuff and pay for its removal and transportation.

        It just boggles the mind that PDVSA just decided to let the stackers rot rather than repair them. But then, many, many things boggle the minds in Vz…

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        • thank you Fifi for allowing us to learn so much we didnt know about pet coke , perhaps I had my information wrong or times have changed and commercial conditions have made the product more saleable . I do seem to remember that some use could be made of the coke in cement manucacturing . If pet coke from the upgrading process has some commercial value so much the worse that the regime has decided to make no profitable use of its disposal.!!


          • Yes, you are correct.

            Cement kilns are indeed a very good outlet for high sulfur fuel grade petcoke. They operate at high mean temperature and fairly high gas retention times, with a very complete combustion. So challenging fuels like petcoke are not an issue. Actually, in many countries, cement kilns are used to destroy safely certain types of hazardous wastes. And the high sulfur content in petcoke is not a big problem. The sulfur is absorbed as oxides by the clinker to produce alkali sulfates in situ. So no added load on emission controls and the produced sulfates replace added gypsum in the finished cement.

            Now, I known there are some limits on how much petcoke can be used, to avoid excessive sulfur input and also to limit the vanadium and nickel added to the clinker. Cement manufacturers typically prefer to control those trace elements to fairly low levels in the finished clinker, and Venezuelan petcoke carries really high levels of those two metals. So, it probably limits how much petcoke can be used vs other fuels.

            That being said, the whole Jose complex is supposed to produce 15,000 tons of petcoke a day, more than 5 millions tons a year. So it’s a shit load of coke to get rid of, even if the actual production numbers are a lot lower than that. Local cement plants would not cover it all, nor even come close, even admitting they can be fired 100% with petcoke.


  3. Coke is a byproduct of the Upgrading processes whereby extra heavy crude is converted into conventional crude . All upgrading processes produce vast amounts of coke , the coke is nearly useless , it is not rich in stored energy, not like the coke which is used in syderurgical industry, sometime it can be processed to extract from its certain valuable metals , but the costs are extremely high and the processing is not always commercial . Its basically an industrial waste. Handling and getting rid of its huge volumes is a big difficult task which requires especialized expertize and industrial facilities . The four mixed companies nationalized by Chavez had it all under control , there were facilities for handling it and specialized contractors efficiently doing the job of collecting it and then disposing of it .

    When Chavez ordered Pdvsa to take over these upgrading installations , the specialized contractors where booted out , they were told that they would not be needed and that Pdvsa itself would take over the job directly . In only a few months time the facilities suffered a number of accidents , were for all practical purposes rendered useless and the mountains of coke starting rising in size until they became the huge accummulations that we see today.

    They represent both a public health hazard and an industrial accident threat . Apparently Pdvsa decided that hiring contractors to handles the volumes was a good idea after all but apparently the criteria for hiring these contractors was probably based on partisan clientelar notions rather than those of corporate efficienty , The result is the one which this blog describes.

    As Venezuelas production of conventional crudes falls to be (hoefully ) replaced by that of extra heavy crudes there will be a greater need for the building and operation of upgrading plants , As we all know extra heavy crude can only be moved and made commercial by mixing it with light crudes or refinery produced diluents or by processing them in upgrading plants. In Venezuela there are limits ( commercial operational and logistically ) to the mixing of extra heavy crude with diluents and light crudes so sooner or later new upgraders will have to be built . This will require Pdvsa to adopt a coke handling policy which addresses the problem that the operation of these Upgrading units create .

    There is a new never before tried upgrading method ( developed by Intevep) which might be able to dispense with the production of coke as a by product , If this method were to be proved workable ( which is still to be verified) , then the coke problem would be easier to control . Meantime these coke dunes will represent an emblem of all thats wrong with this regimes handling or the oil industry.


  4. Sledge : I dont relish Francisco being beaten up for posting a video which whether totally convincing or not contributed to the technical understanding of the cybernetic part of the electoral process , Of course there are many signs that the Regime uses every means available to fraudently manipulate the elections , but the more we understand the electronic means used to carry out the elections , the better we can pin point the areas where such fraud is actually committed . We owe it to Francisco as a matter of human decency to courteously hear him out and not assault his personal integrity because we dislike what he is saying !!


    • Information should and can be enlightening. But it’s up to individuals to analyse, and then to make the proper connections, on everything that we’re informed on.


    • The point that some have missed is that while the way Smartmatic came to be is certainly a prime example of corruption, they certainly did not necessarily need to create a flawed product to line their pockets with ill gotten gains.

      It’s HOW the votes are input where the shenanigans occur.

      Witnesses forced to abandon voting centers so that votes are input without any check.

      “Assisted voting” and “take a pic of your vote and show me outside ” proof of voting, to be cross checked against a list of voters for those polling stations.

      Fingerprint capture machines not connected to the network, allowing multiple votes by the same individual with multiple ID’S.

      And ni hablar of the “voter registry”……..

      And many other ways.

      So the bet that electronic tallies with paper is entirely a safe bet for Francisco to make because they are not stupid to cheat in such a way as to be discovered by any inconsistency in that part of the process.


      • No one guarantees that the machine in the voting center the voting day has the same software than those machines that were “audited” days before.

        Also, everybody knows that such audits don’t review the full source code (Regardless the smartmatic guy might say, because a vendor will never say their product is flawed in any way)

        And add all the other stuff that’s done in the voting day.

        In conclusion, the only election that chaburrismo won was in 1998, all the other elections were fraud until proven contrary (2k7 was the time where the fraud didn’t come out as expected, they ended with more votes than people in the REP, so they had to concede, also they never published the exact amount of votes for each option, fraud there too.)

        About the black dunes topic, this is yet another proof that everything chaburrismo does is in order to destroy Venezuela.


        • The important audit is the one that happens after the Acta is printed. That is the one that guarantees the result is correct.


  5. I don’t comment much here but always read you guys. At times I think Toro’s and Nagel’s opinions are a bit oppo extremist for my liking, but Toro has a point on the Smartmatic argument, and the reaction from some of the commenters is such señora del cafetal. I rarely read comment sections on websites because it is usually mostly nonsense, I take the time here cause people actually raise good points but the whole thing on smartmatic was low and…


    • And what’s the point about Smartmatic? I found absolutely nothing on Google itself to defend it except its own shady representatives. All you will find are accusations, failures, and very well founded suspicions and entire claims, legal investigations, ghost founders on the run, hiding from country to country.

      And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to seriously question this little phantom Venezuelan start up, that received Chavista Millions and overnight support to handle the elections in Vzla. Guess what happens every time there’s an “election” in Vzla.. Do you honestly think Chavismo would install a good, honest, “bullet-proof” elections system, help create it, pay for it (28% they say) and then implement it overnight?!
      Cabello Thugs, Masduro thugs and even Castrimo was over “Smartmatic” from their early start in dark alley of Caracas (The Anzola family, etc)

      Read and investigate for yourselves. In the USA, Italy, Europe, heck even in Brazil, Argentina and the Philippines they highly question and criticize this Chavista Scam called “Smartmatic” . How naive can we still be, after all..!!


    • Leo, where you able to read my link to the Belgian article? It is in Dutch but you can use Google translate.

      And the point of using finger prints is for intimidation. That is NOT used in Belgium and would never be accepted in Europe for the same reason. What? Are Venezuelans more courageous about the finger prints?
      It is not what we think about the captahuellas but what most people do.

      And the guy from Smartmatic lied about the use of the system in Europe. In Belgium it has caused problems. I for one have seen how it is used…and it is not faster. And in the Netherlands they won’t be using Smartmatic any more and in Germany, like in most of the rest of Western Europe, people are not using e-voting for reasons Francisco doesn’t seem to comprehend but prefers to censor.
      Sí, porque los venezolanos son más arrechos, sobre todo los que estudiaron ciencias políticas y no informática o estudios semejantes.


  6. Gustavo, when free press existed in Venezuela, I read articles about how residents in rancherios nearby to the Jose coke mountains were complaining of ailments, especially respiratory, caused by coke dust, which was so corrosive that it was wearing off the paint on their houses.


    • Rodrigo : The thing to consider is that not all pet coke has the same properties and features , depends on the kind of crude from which it is extracted , the type of process through which it is obtained etc. in short that there are different types of pet cole . The properties of certain pet cokes may be such that their commercial use is either impossible or challenging or very restricted .

      A big part of a refinery’s or an upgraders costs are the generation of the energy consummed in its processes , the natural thing would be for a refinery or upgrader to use the coke it produces to feed the power plants used by these installations , where the owners decide not to save costs by using the coke they produce as fuel feed , its a sign that its not commercial to burn such coke because of other costs its burning entails.

      I have the impression that the reason why we have those huge mountains of coke in Jose is because when the upgraders were being designed and built , Exxon , Conoco and other companies decided that the burning of the coke produced by the upgraders to generate electricity for their plants was not very economical .

      The processing of coke to extract certain metals from it , is done in many places , usually in small plants, but the business is not always very profitable and sometimes the economics of such extraction are uncommercial depending on the vagaries of international price fluctuations . Maybe now such such metal extractive activities are more commercial , but at one point in time they were economically very vulnerable and it was difficult to rely on them as long term outlets for the coke being produced. in Joses upgraders

      To the extent that markets are found for the coke that is produced by Venzuelas current or future upgraders it will be to the countries advantage , the current cost of a 200 kbd upgrader runs between 12 and 18 billion USD , and as Venezuela will become ever more dependent on its production of extra heavy crudes , anything helping the economies of these upgraders will help the country operate a healthy oil industry.


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