Venezuela to raise oil production, Chavez says

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez announced that Venezuela’s state oil company will boost its crude output by 30,000 barrels a day beginning Thursday in honor of his 57th birthday.

It’s a symbolic increase for a country that claims to already produce about 3 million barrels a day. But Chavez told state television Wednesday it’s part of a longer-term upward trend and said that within a few years Venezuela will be pumping 4 million barrels a day.

Chavez said workers of the state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA, will begin producing an additional 30,000 barrels a day in the eastern Orinoco River basin as a “gift” in honor of his birthday.

“Tomorrow there is a jump in production,” Chavez said.

He said that “we’re already at more than a million barrels” a day in the Orinoco region, an area that holds vast deposits of heavy crude oil.

Venezuela, which is an OPEC member, has dramatically increased its proven reserves in recent years. Earlier this month, OPEC recognized Venezuela as the country with the biggest proven oil reserves in the world, saying that with 296.5 billion barrels it now surpasses Saudi Arabia.

The state oil company has set a goal of producing 4.15 million barrels of crude a day in 2015.

Although the government says it is currently producing about 3 million barrels, other organizations such as the International Energy Agency and OPEC maintain its actual output is about 2.8 million barrels a day.

Chavez also said the government now predicts the country’s economy could grow nearly 5 percent this year, up from an initial projection of between 2 percent and 4 percent.

The country reported the economy expanded at an annual rate of 4.5 percent in the first quarter, after two years of contraction. Yet the key oil sector, which is Venezuela’s main economic engine, declined 1.8 percent in the first quarter due to a decline in oil production, according to the Central Bank.

Economic output decreased 1.4 percent during 2010.

Chavez spoke during a televised phone call to a group of business people and he urged private business owners to work with the government to build a “socialist economic model.”

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