HOUSTON — The Trump administration on Friday granted Chevron, the last major American oil company operating in Venezuela, three more months to produce oil and gas in the South American country, which it hit earlier with sweeping sanctions.
The announcement, from the Treasury Department, was made with no fanfare and was not viewed as a fundamental change in the administration’s policy toward Venezuela. President Trump has made clear that he thinks President Nicolás Maduro ought to hand power over to an interim government to pave the way for an election.
The administration banned American companies and individuals from dealing with Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, or Pdvsa, on Jan. 28, but it granted Chevron and four United States oil service companies a six-month waiver. That exemption has now been extended to Oct. 25.
The sanctions essentially shut Venezuelan oil out of the United States, that country’s most important market by far. It also prohibited the sale to Venezuela of lighter grades of American crude, which the South American country blends with its heavy oil to move the fuel through pipelines. Venezuela’s oil production has collapsed nearly 50 percent over the last year, to 760,000 barrels a day in June, according to S&P Global Platts.
Several American oil services companies — Halliburton, Schlumberger, G.E.’s Baker Hughes and Weatherford International — continue to support the production of oil and gas in Venezuela, but their operations have been greatly reduced in recent years because Pdvsa has fallen behind in paying them. They also received waiver extensions until October on Friday.
“Forcing them to unwind in Venezuela would cause a lot of damage to these companies,” said Jose L. Valera, an international energy lawyer at Mayer Brown. “All of them are owed a lot of money by Pdvsa, and my speculation is that the administration doesn’t want the sanctions to end up backfiring on American companies unnecessarily.”
Chevron, which has operated in Venezuela since the 1920s, has four joint projects with Pdvsa and produces oil off the country’s shores with other companies. Together, those operations account for about a quarter of Venezuela’s production.
Venezuela represents a tiny fraction of Chevron’s international operations, although it could be an important part of the company’s business if and when the political turmoil in Venezuela subsides because the country has the world’s largest oil reserves.
Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips quit Venezuela 12 years ago after refusing to accept stringent new operating terms from President Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013. But Chevron and several European companies decided to hang on and signed agreements giving Venezuela larger stakes in their operations.
Mr. Chávez’s successor, Mr. Maduro, has threatened to nationalize Chevron’s assets if it leaves. He could then sell them to a Russian or Chinese oil company.
Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader, whom the United States and many European and Latin American governments recognize as president, said he would protect Chevron’s interests even if the company was not granted an extension by the Trump administration. But he would probably be powerless to enforce that decision.
October could be a crucial month for the Venezuelan economy because more than $900 million in payments will come due on Pdvsa bonds. A default could allow its creditors to seek control of the company’s American subsidiary, Citgo.