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Russian Oil Is Reaching More Corners of China’s Refining Sector

·2 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Cheap Russian oil is finding its way into more corners of China’s refining industry, with buyers from coastal and inland regions snapping up cargoes that the US and Europe can’t touch.

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Chinese companies registered in nine administration regions across the nation imported a record quantity of Russian crude last month, customs data show. Shipments also reached the most number of entities since January 2020, suggesting they are finding new customers in Asia’s largest refining market.

Asian buyers have been the main beneficiaries of the conflict in Europe, with China and India taking a record amount of Russian crude after the US, UK and European Union rolled out sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine. Efforts to starve Putin’s administration from lucrative oil revenues have upended global flows, prompting a scramble for alternatives that has freed up Russian supplies for willing buyers across the region.

China bought Russian oil at an average of $93 a barrel last month, $17 cheaper than imports from Saudi Arabia during the same period, customs data show. Grades include ESPO crude, which loads from the Russian far east port of Kozmino, as well as flagship Urals.

About 32% of the record 8.42 million tons (2 million barrels a day) of Russian crude imports were conducted by companies registered in the Chinese capital of Beijing, according to the data. That’s where most government-owned state refiners are based, including oil titans such as China National Petroleum Corp. and Sinopec Group.

Just over 30% of Russian purchases was imported by entities in Heilongjiang, a landlocked area in northeastern China that borders Russia. These flows were likely done via the inland ESPO pipeline. Heilongjiang is home to several CNPC refineries.

Separately, estimates by data and analytics firm Vortexa Ltd. on the volume of Russia to China flows via the ESPO pipeline suggest the facility is running at maximum capacity, said its analyst Emma Li.

According to customs data, companies registered in Shandong, Jiangsu, Liaoning, Zhejiang, Henan, Hebei and Guangxi also imported significant volumes of Russian oil. Shandong is home to China’s private refining sector that collectively makes up about one quarter of the country’s capacity.

Data released by Chinese customs don’t specify the exact companies involved in buying and consuming the underlying commodity. Entities registered in a certain location may operate in areas outside of their region of incorporation.

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