China's crude throughput in April is set to fall further from March as both state-owned and small-sized independent refineries enter maintenance season, and despite integrated private plants increasing utilization, information collected by S&P Global Commodity Insights showed March 30.
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The average utilization at China's state-owned refiners Sinopec, PetroChina, CNOOC and Sinochem fell to 81.1% in March from the three-month high of 82.5% in February, according to S&P Global.
China's crude throughput stood at 14.42 million b/d over January-February, rising 1.8% from December, data from National Bureau of Statistics showed, which does not release separate data for the first two months of the year.
In April, a combined 680,000 b/d of capacity at state-owned refineries will be offline for scheduled maintenance, comprising 160,000 b/d at Sinopec and 520,000 b/d at PetroChina, S&P Global data showed.
This adds to 440,000 b/d of capacity shut in March; Sinopec's flagship Zhenhai Refining & Petrochemical shut its 200,000 b/d No. 3 CDU for two months' maintenance March 12 and CNOOC its 240,000 b/d phase 1 refinery in Huizhou March 16.
Sinopec's Changling Petrochemical and Beihai Refining and Petrochemical refineries have also been undergoing partial maintenance at secondary units by replacing catalysts, which has slightly affected their overall crude throughput in March.
A combined 2.07 million b/d of capacity at refineries will be offline for scheduled maintenance in the first half of 2023, according to S&P Global data, though not all at the same time.
Despite the heavy maintenance schedule, China may raise clean oil product exports by 32.2% to 2.1 million mt in April from 1.6 million mt in March amid the slower-than-expected recovery in domestic demand after the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, according to analysts at S&P Global Commodity Insights.
China's Economics and Technology Research Institute, part of China National Petroleum Corp., said March 27 it expects China to export 35 million mt of oil products in 2023, largely steady from 2022.
PetroChina boosts utilization before maintenance
PetroChina boosted its utilization slightly to 76.7% in March from 76.2% in February ahead of maintenance.
Sinochem also gradually lifted the utilization rate at its 300,000 b/d Quanzhou Petrochemical refinery by four percentage points to 94% in March after raising throughput at the 60,000 b/d CDU.
However, utilization at CNOOC's 440,000 b/d Huizhou Petrochemical fell 26 percentage points from February to 73% in March as maintenance began.
Sinopec, the world's biggest refiner, cut run rates by one percentage point to 84.8% in March from a 12-month high of 85.9% in February.
A few Sinopec refining sources said the head office capped their throughput despite them want to process more. Sinopec has plans to increase taking oil product supplies at competitive prices from other producers to meet growing domestic demand amid its business transformation.
The 48 state-owned refineries covered by S&P Global in March planned to process 8.38 million b/d of crude in the month, against their combined capacity of 10.34 million b/d.
This comprises 24 refineries under Sinopec, 22 under PetroChina, CNOOC's Huizhou Petrochemical and Sinochem's Quanzhou Petrochemical, 16 of which cut run rates in March by at least one percentage point from February. In comparison, 31 of the 47 refineries covered in February reported having raised their run rates by at least one percentage point from the month before.
Shandong independent refineries cut runs
Meanwhile, small-scale independent refineries in eastern Shandong province trimmed their run rates slightly to around 65.7% in March from 67.8% in February due to maintenance, data from local energy information provider JLC showed. Their utilization rate is likely to remain capped until June when maintenance season ends.
However, integrated private complexes raised or kept utilization stable on the month in March.
The 800,000 b/d Zhejiang Petroleum & Chemical refinery ran at around 100% of capacity in March after maintenance at some units ended, rising from around 90% in February.
The 400,000 b/d Hengli Petrochemical (Dalian) refinery hiked utilization by 12 percentage points on the month to 94% in March, supported by ESPO cargoes delivered from Russia.
The new 320,000 b/d Shenghong Petrochemical was also operating at near full capacity in March, relatively stable from February.
State-owned refineries maintenance schedule
** Sinopec's 540,000 b/d Zhenhai Refining & Petrochemical plant started maintenance at its 200,000 b/d CDU around March 12 that will last until early May.
** CNOOC's 440,000 b/d Huizhou Petrochemical plant shut its 12 million mt/year Phase I refining complex for 50 days' maintenance March 16.
** Sinopec's 200,000 b/d Luoyang Refining & Petrochemical plant to undergo overall maintenance from May 15 to July 7.
** Sinopec's 240,000 b/d Qingdao Refining & Petrochemical plant to start full maintenance from May 25 to end July.
** Sinopec's 420,000 b/d Jinling Petrochemical plant to shut No. 3 160,000 b/d CDU for 35 days' maintenance from April 12.
** PetroChina's 180,000 b/d Liaoyang Petrochemical plant to shut for maintenance April 10-May 26.
** PetroChina's 100,000 b/d Changqing Petrochemical plant to shut for overall maintenance from early April to end May.
** PetroChina's 100,000 b/d Harbin Petrochemical plant to shut for overall turnaround from early May to end June.
** PetroChina's 240,000 b/d Urumqi Petrochemical plant to shut for overall maintenance April 20-June 15.
** PetroChina's 200,000 b/d Daqing Petrochemical plant to undergo overall maintenance mid-June to end July.
** PetroChina's 210,000 b/d Lanzhou Petrochemical plant to undergo full maintenance over June-August.
Average run rates at China's top refiners:
|State-owned||23-Mar||23-Feb||22-Mar||Q1 2023||Q1 2022|
|Private sector:||23-Mar||23-Feb||22-Mar||Q1 2023||Q1 2022|
Source: S&P Global Commodity Insights