Russia’s Urals Crude for South Korea Refiner

Russia’s Urals Crude for South Korea RefinerRussia’s Urals Crude for South Korea Refiner

The biggest oil producers in the Middle East are helping crude from Western Siberia go where it has rarely gone before.

Top South Korean refiner SK Innovation Co. is set to receive about 1 million barrels of Urals crude in its first purchase of the Russian blend oil in a decade. The shipment was made viable because of rising costs for rival supply from the Middle East, as nations such as Saudi Arabia curb output to comply with a deal between global producers, Bloomberg reported.

The cargo is also another example that helps illustrate how the reductions by top OPEC members are rerouting the flow of oil across the globe. In recent weeks, Asia has become a destination for grades that typically do not show up in the region -- from US Mars Blend and Southern Green Canyon to West Canadian Select, Hibernia and White Rose. 

The premium of Oman crude, often pitted against Urals because of similar quality, jumped to its highest level this month against Middle East benchmark Dubai oil.

“The flow of Urals into Asia is rare as it’s usually not economically viable versus other supplies such as Oman or Upper Zakum crude,” said Nevyn Nah, a Singapore-based analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd. 

“The grade is typically transported on Suezmax or smaller vessels due to draft restrictions at the port and Suez Canal, and that makes it tough to compete with Mideast grades that are typically transported on Very Large Crude Carriers.”

Urals, a medium-sour grade favored by processors in the European and Mediterranean regions, has been less popular among Asian buyers as Middle East crudes were cheaper, required less sailing time due to geographical proximity and were delivered in larger vessels. A VLCC can transport about 2 million barrels, while a Suezmax would hold about 1 million.

SK bought about 1 million barrels of Urals for April arrival from Lukoil PJSC, three traders with knowledge of the deal said. Company spokeswoman Kim Wookyung confirmed the purchase.

“As Dubai crude supply has become tighter in Asia, this made Russian cargo more economical for us,” Kim said, adding that the cargo “will be our first purchase of Urals in a decade.” 

The Asian nation last imported the Russian crude in 2007, according to 1998-2015 data provided by Statistics Korea. 

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