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What's next for US-Venezuela relations?

Despite soaring tensions between the Trump administration and the regime of Nicolas Maduro, the two nations still share a crucial link: oil.

Now, that tight oil relationship is coming under enormous strain.

Washington has recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's president as protests against Maduro erupted across the country.

RBC Europe predicted that US sanctions could almost double projected output shortfalls from Venezuela.

Political upheaval in Venezuela has also been a flashpoint for markets. "Venezuelan production will decline by an additional 300,000-500,000 barrels per day (bpd) this year but such punitive measures could expand that outage by several hundred thousand barrels".

The head of French oil giant Total, Patrick Pouyanne, agreed that operating in Venezuela is hard.

The spread between benchmark gasoline prices and oil futures, an indication of how profitable it is for refiners to produce the motor fuel, plummeted to as low as $5.693 a barrel on Thursday, the narrowest since October 2013. But RBC warned that USA sanctions could cause that figure to increase by several hundred thousand additional barrels. In July 2011, the Indian "NDTV" and the "Reuters" news agency had both reported, along with many premier global media houses, thatVenezuela was the country gifted with the most proven crude oil reserves on the planet. That's because Venezuela's oil shipments to China and Russian Federation are usually taken as repayment for billions of dollars in debts. The deliveries are made in exchange for payments towards Venezuela's massive debt.

"If he is added to the USA sanctions list, that will be just one more headache for OPEC in the United States, where they're already facing potential NOPEC legislation", said Croft. Inflation is projected to reach a stunning 10 million percent in 2019.

Research further shows that Venezuelan Government authorities have at times optimistically boasted that their mining regions holds 7,000 tons of gold, which is roughly worth $200 billion, besides possessing $100 billion in Coltan, a metallic ore ubiquitous in electronic devices; and over three billion carats in diamonds! That's likely because it's very uncertain what happens next.

US energy firms this week increased the number of oil rigs operating for the first time this year.

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"This lower oil price environment may give Trump more cushion to implement these sanctions", Croft said. "I don't think they'll go straight to an oil import ban", she said.

Still, some analysts said the possibility of immediate sanctions were unlikely.

"It could lead to all of its oil production going offline and chaos in the country", said McMonigle.

Venezuelan output has been hampered by chronic under investment by the nationalized oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PdVSA).

The problem is that even though United States oil production has skyrocketed to record highs, America is not self-sufficient. "This would deal a further blow to USA refiners that rely on whatever Venezuelan oil is still available and as such would be short-term bullish".

“As we shuffle into seasonal maintenance, it is no surprise to see refinery runs dropping, but this drop has been compounded by a big jump in imports to propel crude stocks higher, ” he said. Valero and Citgo are among the largest importers of Venezuelan crude.

Brent crude oil futures were at 61.17 dollars a barrel at 0955 GMT, up 8 cents, or 0.13 per cent. OPEC's latest production cuts tightened the supply of heavy crude from Saudi Arabia.

U.S. sanctions on Venezuela could increase the cost of heavy crude, dealing a setback to American refineries, analysts warned.

EIA reported a almost 8M barrel build during last week.

Chevron, which has operations in Venezuela, declined to comment on the situation there. -Venezuelan energy trade, a move that would be potentially devastating to Venezuela.

Other industries that rely heavily on oil may feel impacts. But that's all expected to change this year as gasoline stockpiles surge, and a shortage of heavy crude from Venezuela wouldn't make refiners' lot any easier. “In the event that a reformist government comes to power, the road back for Venezuela will be extremely arduous given the depths of the economic and humanitarian disaster.