Citgo to Stop Selling Gas to 1,800 U.S. Stations

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Venezuela-owned Citgo Petroleum Corp. has decided to stop distributing gasoline to some 1,800 U.S. stations, shedding a lackluster segment of its business while forcing the owners of those stations to find other suppliers.

While it may create some logistical headaches for gasoline retailers in the short term, the move should not have any impact on the nation's overall fuel supply.

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Citgo, which is wholly owned by Venezuela's state oil company, currently has to purchase 130,000 barrels a day from third parties in order to meet its service contracts at 13,100 stations across the U.S. This is less profitable than selling gasoline directly from its refineries.

Instead, the Houston-based company has decided to sell to retailers only the 750,000 barrels a day that it produces at three U.S. refineries in Lake Charles, La., Corpus Christi, Texas and Lemont, Ill., according to a statement late Tuesday.

That will mean that over the next year Citgo will cease distributing gasoline in 10 states and stop supplying some stations in four additional states, Citgo spokesman Fernando Garay said Wednesday.

Chavez has long claimed that parts of Citgo's business produce losses for Venezuela and constitute a subsidy for the U.S. economy.

Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez has also charged that Citgo isn't profitable enough and that its parent, state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, could at some point sell off some of the company's refineries.

However, in a sign of the apparently lucrative relationship between the two companies, PDVSA announced Wednesday that it has so far earned $400 million in dividends this year from Citgo.

The states where Citgo will stop selling gasoline are: Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Dakota. A limited number of stations in Illinois, Texas, Arkansas and Iowa will also be affected.

Venezuela is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter and the U.S. is its top buyer. The United States relied on Venezuela for about 11 percent of its oil supply in 2005.

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