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Venezuelan crude exports to the US rose by 144,000b/d in January to almost 1.17Mb/d from 1.03Mb/d in December 2008, according to data released by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).
The exports marked the highest levels in nearly six months and came after Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez said that US exports would be reduced to comply with OPEC production quotas.
Local press speculated that Venezuela was increasing its oil shipments to the US because of falling oil prices and revenue shortfalls. The country frequently provides friendly nations with subsidized oil and has also faced rising domestic demand because of an expanding vehicle fleet fueled by the world's cheapest gasoline.
Data on the US exports, however, may not yet reflect OPEC production cuts implemented earlier in the year.
"The effects of OPEC cuts will not materialize until February numbers are out," Gianna Bern, an energy analyst and president of Chicago-based Brookshire Advisory and Research, told BNamericas. "Implementation of production cuts typically takes about two months."
Not every OPEC country is fully in compliance, she added, noting that the cartel was seeing a compliance rate of about 85%.
"January exports reflect higher crude prices associated with the brief conflict between Israel and Hamas that drove crude oil prices up," Bern said. "An increase in exports in January would have helped any OPEC country."
Venezuela produced 2.14Mb/d of oil in February, down by 51,500b/d from nearly 2.20Mb/d in January, according to OPEC's monthly oil market report.
The country agreed in January to cut production by an additional 189,000b/d as part of an OPEC decision to take 1.5Mb/d off the market.
Venezuela announced previous output cuts of 46,000b/d and 129,000b/d after OPEC meetings in September and December, bringing the country's total share of recent OPEC cuts to 364,000b/d.
Venezuela's total exports have fallen by 40% from 1997 to a little over 1.5Mb/d, according to a report released by IDB-affiliated energy analyst Ramón Espinasa.
In the oil market, exports to the US account for 85% of Venezuela's export revenue, Espinasa said, noting that exports to the US in 2008 fell 17% from 1997 levels to around 1.2Mb/d.