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Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Moscow — Russia has been improving the quality of its flagship Urals crude oil exports, making the heavily discounted grade even more attractive to buyers in Asia who have been snapping it up, data obtained by two industry sources and seen by Reuters show.  

Russian oil exports have been strong despite Western sanctions as China and India ramped up purchases and US officials have said Moscow is now earning more money than before the conflict in Ukraine because of higher oil and gas prices.

It has been changing the Urals blend to make the oil lighter and sweeter during the past three months despite a ban on imports of technology for the oil and gas industry from the West, the daily quality data viewed by Reuters on Monday showed.

Russian oil pipeline monopoly Transneft, which transports most of the crude via its system and is responsible for quality control, did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

China and India have become major buyers of Russian oil in the past two months as Moscow seeks other markets for its cargoes as flows to the EU have slowed ahead of a ban expected to take effect at the end of the year.

Two traders who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity because they are not allowed to speak to the press, cited lower domestic demand for low-sulphur oil as one of the reasons for an improvement in the quality of export Urals.

Several plants in Russia’s south, which are usually large buyers of low-sulphur oil, have reduced operations in recent months because EU customers are no longer buying Russian oil products or due to logistical issues related to proximity to the Ukrainian border.

Sulphur content

Urals oil loading from Primorsk port is sweeter with the sulphur content falling to 1.59% for cargoes loading in May-June on average, while in January the content from the cargoes was at 1.64% on average, according to the sources’ data. The crude was also slightly lighter with an average gravity of 30° API in May from 29.8° in January.

API gravity is a commonly used scale for measuring the density of crude oil. Higher numbers correspond to lighter crude.

Urals oil volumes loading from Ust-Luga and supplied to Europe via the Druzhba pipeline have also had sulphur content slip to 1.66% on average in May-June from above 1.7% in January. Gravity rose slightly, from 30.3° API to 30.6°, according to the data.

Urals oil exported from the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk was also sweeter in May-June compared to January, according to the data. Sulphur content in these barrels fell to 1.42% from 1.55% early in the year. The crude was also lighter: gravity rose to 30.65° API in June from 29.5 in January.

Possible quality change could come from curbs to oil production on certain fields, which provide lower quality crude, two other traders said.

“We saw a decline of output in Bashkortostan and Tatarstan regions that produce high-sulphur heavy oils in April-May, which could help the quality,” one of the traders said.

Russian oil output was down in April after sanctions on the country’s financial sector and a sharp fall in demand from European buyers, but has been recovering since May.

Reuters

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