Venezuelan discounted oil arrives in Philly

PHILADELPHIA — On Jan. 27 Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) announced that Citgo, a U.S. subsidiary of the publicly-owned Venezuelan national oil company PDVSA, was going to begin shipping 5 million gallons of discounted heating oil here as part of a plan to provide assistance to 25,000 low-income families throughout the city.

Currently over 7,600 households in Philadelphia and surrounding areas that use heating oil have run out of their LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) aid.

The first Citgo delivery was made the next day to Geraldine Shields in the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia. Neighbors and friends applauded, waving U.S. and Venezuelan flags, as they welcomed the oil delivery to their community.

Former Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, now CEO of Citizens Energy, was driving the truck loaded with the Venezuelan owned oil. Citizens Energy is a nonprofit corporation that is supporting and financing the oil distribution program.

Fattah, Venezuelan Ambassador to the U.S. Bernardo Alvarez, and Citgo CEO Felix Rodriguez also participated in welcoming Shields’ home delivery.

Shields expressed her appreciation, saying, “I’ve had to use my oven for heat. I couldn’t even buy my granddaughter a Christmas gift, because I had to save my money to buy oil. Thank the Lord for this help.”

Ambassador Alvarez said Venezuela welcomes the opportunity to show true friendship to the American people, especially those in need. Citgo’s Rodriguez said the gift was possible because PDVSA is publicly owned: “Our shareholders are the Venezuelan people,” he said.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Phila.) said he hopes other companies will follow Citgo’s example, and asked, “As Citgo stepped up, where is everybody else?”

The Energy Coordinating Agency, a nonprofit energy conservation group in Philadelphia, will administer the discounted oil program. It will use information from Pennsylvania’s Welfare Department to identify and contact eligible families that have used up their LIHEAP grants. These families will be able to buy up to 200 gallons of heating oil for $288, a savings of 40 percent. Heating oil prices have increased 30-50 percent this winter due to the increase in crude oil prices.

Fattah plans to meet with Gov. Ed Rendell’s staff next week to discuss whether the program can be expanded throughout the state. He credited fellow Congressman William Delahunt (D-Mass.) and Kennedy for helping arrange for the program in Philadelphia.

Last September, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced that he would help lead a campaign in making oil from PDVSA (Petroleos de Venezuela, SA) available to low-income families within the U.S.

Chavez toured Manhattan and Bronx communities in New York City after he attended the United Nations World Summit. Afterward, Citgo began to work with the nonprofit groups to supply low cost oil to low-income families in New York City, Rhode Island, Vermont and Indian reservations in Maine. A similar offer was made to the Chicago Transit Authority, but was declined by its management.

In a radio interview, Fattah was asked why he was “embarrassing the U.S. government,” since the Bush administration considers Chávez, a socialist, an enemy. “This is not a political matter. We have the ability to keep families in Philadelphia warm. I’m deeply appreciative of this humanitarian gesture,” he said.

Venezuela is the world’s fifth largest oil exporter in the world, and has the largest oil reserves outside of the Middle East.