Saturday Jul 02 2022

All Pakistani banks refuse to open LCs for Russian crude oil import

Pumpjacks are seen during sunset at the Daqing oil field in Heilongjiang province, China August 22, 2019. — Reuters
Pumpjacks are seen during sunset at the Daqing oil field in Heilongjiang province, China August 22, 2019. — Reuters

  • Banks say payment in dollars not possible against import of Russian oil.
  • Commercial banks cite Russia-Ukraine war reason for not opening LCs.
  • Oil refineries also cite several problems in importing crude oil from Russia.

ISLAMABAD: All Pakistani commercial banks have refused to open letters of credit (LCs) for Russian-origin crude oil in the light of economic sanctions by the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union against Moscow for invading Ukraine, The News reported Saturday.

The commercial banks, according to the publication, have stated that payment in US dollars is not possible against the import of Russian crude oil.

However, if the government manages to enter a G2G agreement with Russia for the import of crude oil under transaction mode based on the rouble — ensuring no impact of sanctions on Pakistan — the refineries can utilise crude oil up to 15-30%, keeping in view its technical suitability for making finished products.

On the other hand, the refineries are in their short and long-term agreements with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), Aramco, and Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC) for crude oil imports.

More importantly, the current transportation freight for imports from Russian ports is estimated in the range of $3-3.5 million compared to the current freight of $0.8-1.0 from the Middle East ports and the sea voyage from the Black Sea would be around 16-26 days compared to 4-5 days from the Middle East.

This means that the freight charges, from Russia’s ports to Karachi, stand at $8 per barrel which is 8-12 times higher in comparison to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ports.

This is the essence of the written responses of four refineries — PARCO, BYCO (Cnergyico Pk Limited), PRL, and NRL — to the government against letters written to them on June 27, seeking recommendations on five issues, which included the technical suitability of the Russian crude oil, quality and grades, cost of transportation and freight charges, payment mechanism, and existing terms of the contract.

Can utilise Russian oil up to 15-30%: PARCO

According to the copy of the written responses available with The News, Pak-Arab Refinery (PARCO) said that a detailed technical analysis of processing Russian crude oil can be assessed based on the crude oil blend of Russian grades along with the current grades.

The PARCO wants to ask for samples of Russian grades like SOKO, ESPO and URALA, and Serbia Light, saying it can utilise Russian crude oil up to 15-30% keeping in view its technical suitability for making the finished products.

PARCO said at the maximum, it can import one or two cargoes of 70,000MT to process in a month as most of the Russian crude oils are heavier than its imported grades, therefore, to manage product mix, these can be processed by replacing the Arab Light crude oil.

High freight charges

BYCO refinery, which imported two Russian crude oil cargoes in the past, has said that the voyage time from Russian ports to Karachi varies from 28-37 days and freight charges are 8-12 times higher in comparison to the UAE ports.

Since a very limited number of vessels are reporting at the Russian ports due to the risk of sanctions, this can further increase the freight charges. Cnergyico also asked Pakistan and Russian governments to decide on an effective payment channel because as per prevailing conditions, it will be difficult for commercial banks to open LCs due to the risk of sanctions.

It also says that it's crude procurement maintains a balance between spot and term cargoes for a particular quarter based on market fundamentals. However, the BYCO refinery says it can absorb some of the Russian crude oil.

More importantly, the Russian crude oils vary from field to field and some of them are technically suitable keeping in view each refinery configuration.

Difficulties in product disposal

PRL said that it has graded three Russian crudes that including SOKOL, ESPO, and URAL. SOKOL crude oil is the first preference in terms of quality grading, ESPO second, and URAL comes third in terms of preference.

While, the PRL said that SOKOL is a light and sweet crude, it has higher middle distillates and low fuel oil contents. SOKOL would always be the first-choice crude for PRL when compared with other available grades.

It said that the ESPO is fairly sweeter crude with a medium-light blend. However, its only demerit is the higher quantum of fuel oil, and its disposal will always be a daunting task the URAL, PRL says, it’s a mix of both heavy, light and sour crudes.

Urals Sulphur content varies from 1.4% to 2.%. Higher Sulphur content variation in this crude will naturally reflect in its product slate, thereby making it difficult for the refiner to stipulate product Sulphur specifications.

This crude also contains higher volumes of fuel oil and will always pose difficulties in product disposal. Mentioning transportation and freight analysis for import from Russia crude oil in comparison with the normal imports from the Middle East, the PRL said it imports a major chunk of its crude oil from the Middle East region, where freight varies between $1.0-1.5 per barrel. And Freight charges from the KOZMINO port of Russia to Karachi are $8.0/barrel as quoted by the national carrier as a provisional quote.

The PRL also mentioned that the sea voyage time from KOZMINO port to Karachi is approximately 22 days.

About the existing commitment to upliftment from the Arab Gulf region concerning term contracts, the PRL said that according to current term contracts with ADNOC, ARAMCO and KPC 1.2 million MT/ 9.0 million barrels per year are required to be uplifted.

The PRL said after fulfilling its current crude oil term, contract obligations can explore the possibility of processing an additional 300,000-400,000 MT per year.

Route likely to pass through war zones

The NRL, in its one-page response, said that currently LCs are not being confirmed by the international banks because of the country's risk and commercial banks are not inclined to open LCs for the import of Russian crude oil in the presence of sanctions against Russia.

It also said that the normal sailing time from the Middle East is about four days, whereas it is estimated that the voyage time (one way) would be 20 days from Russia.

Moreover, the route is likely to pass through war zones owing to which risk factors will increase manifold. The NRL suggested the government carve out a doable payments mechanism.