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UAE's Fujairah to move ahead with ADNOC's crude caverns in 2022


Dry bulk export facility being built

Caverns will store crude in Fujairah mountains

LNG bunkering may be added

  • Author
  • Claudia Carpenter
  • Editor
  • Adithya Ram
  • Commodity
  • Electric Power LNG Oil Shipping

The UAE's Fujairah port, which is coming off a record year in terms of liquid bulk throughput, is closer to a major expansion of its crude oil storage capacity in 2022 at the same time refineries are planning additions, while container shipping may get a boost when the Etihad Rail connects to the hub.

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Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. is building underground caverns in Fujairah to store 42 million barrels of oil, with completion set for 2022. Two other UAE companies -- Ecomar Energy Solutions and Brooge Petroleum -- are investing in storage and refining facilities in the UAE, while the national Etihad Rail is building a link to the Port of Fujairah that could boost container shipping activity. Uniper Energy DMCC, one of three refineries at the port, may also boost its refinery output.

A Dirham 1 billion ($272 million) dry bulk export facility to ship from Fujairah's Dibba is set to open later in 2022, possibly providing a boost to bunkering activities, while LNG bunkering may also be introduced, Martijn Heijboer, Port of Fujairah business development manager told S&P Global Platts.

The port probably set record liquid bulk throughput volume in 2021 despite the constraints of the pandemic, he said. Total crude and product volumes handled at the port exceeded 120 million mt in 2020, up from around 110 million mt in 2019, Heijboer said previously. The total figure includes volumes at the port's own Fujairah Oil Tanker Terminals, or FOTT, ADNOC's three single point moorings, the VOPAK Horizon jetty, as well as ship-to-ship transactions, floating storage and bunkering at the anchorage.

Carrying sulfur

Etihad Rail has said it has completed nine tunnels in the Fujairah mountains, with plans to reach Fujairah, without giving a timeline. Stage one started in 2016 and carries sulfur from Abu Dhabi emirate's Shah to Habshan and Ruwais regions.

Fujairah, with its strategic position outside the volatile Strait of Hormuz, has risen rapidly in the last two decades to become the third-largest global bunkering port after Singapore and Rotterdam. At the free zone, just north of the main city, the landscape between the rugged mountains and the ocean is dominated by rows of tall, cylindrical oil tanks on both sides of the highway. Uniper Energy DMCC, which operates one of three refineries at the port, is planning to operate as normal for 2022, although there is "potential for slightly increased production and therefore slightly more supply going forward," the company said in response to a request for a comment on the 2022 outlook.

"It is very likely to see a busy year for Fujairah next year, given incremental crude trade out of the Middle East and the UAE, incremental products demand fully out of COVID-19 and incremental HSFO bunker demand given the resumption of scrubber installations, which were slower than anticipated since the pandemic outbreak in 2020," said Iman Nasseri, managing director, Middle East, for FGE consultancy.

If Iran's nuclear talks are successful, and US sanctions on its energy trade are removed, it's not clear whether that would boost or reduce port throughput because Iran may choose to ship its products directly rather than through the port, he added.

Cavern storage

ADNOC has a crude export terminal at Fujairah, fed from its 1.5 million b/d Habshan pipeline. Under one of the mountains, ADNOC is excavating caverns that will form the world's largest single-site underground crude oil storage reserve. ADNOC said it did not have any new information on the project when asked for an update.

"The Fujairah underground oil storage project, upon completion, will strengthen ADNOC's position as a reliable crude oil suppler thanks to its strategic location. Also, it will grant ADNOC more flexibility to manage market changes and seize commercial opportunities," said Dong Wang, analyst, Middle East oil markets at S&P Global Platts Analytics.

Futures trading on ADNOC's Murban, its most important crude oil grade, started in March on the ICE Futures Abu Dhabi exchange (IFAD), with Fujairah an optional delivery point.

The caverns may increase flexibility for Murban buyers who currently "get a short loading window, which is inconvenient," Nasseri said. "Caverns and higher IFAD Murban deliveries will support more exports, bring in more VLCCs, and hence incremental bunker demand."

Murban futures have not yet brought many benefits to Fujairah due to COVID-19-related OPEC output constraints, he said. However, ADNOC's crude flexibility program at Ruwais will allow the refinery there to process more than just Murban and much heavier crudes, allowing for more Murban exports, he said. Once ADNOC boosts its crude oil production capacity to 5 million b/d by 2030, from about 4 million b/d currently, that should raise Fujairah's exports of Murban by about 250,000 b/d to 950,000 b/d in the next few years and ultimately boost flows through the ADNOC ADCOP pipeline, which stretches from Abu Dhabi to Fujairah, to full capacity of 1.8 million b/d, he said.