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Kazakhstan's CPC crude loadings surge to record high in March

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London — Loadings of Kazakhstan's CPC crude grade spiked to a record-high 1.65 million b/d in March propelled by production from the giant Tengiz and Kashagan fields, the pipeline's operator said in a statement.

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CPC is a light crude that loads in the Russian port of Novorossiisk on the Black Sea, however, 90% of the crude comes by pipeline from landlocked Kazakhstan's oil fields in and around the Caspian Sea.

Loadings in March were 150,000 b/d higher than the previous record set in June last year, on a barrels-per-day basis, according to the statement late-Wednesday from the Caspian Pipeline Consortium.

The surge means Kazakhstan has been contributing to massive oversupply in global markets, which has been reflected in particularly steep discounting for the grade.

CPC is typically shipped to customers in Asia and is viewed as having similar refining characteristics to Saudi Arabia's Arab Extra Light. Saudi Aramco has priced that grade at a discount of $8.10/b to ICE Brent in April.

The jump in loadings implies big increases in production from Kazakhstan's two largest fields: Tengiz and Kashagan. The two fields accounted for 723,000 b/d and 471,000 b/d of the March loadings according to the statement, although this does not necessarily correspond to wellhead production, and overall CPC loadings in February were a tepid 1.33 million b/d.

Flagship fields

Tengiz, which is operated by a Chevron-led consortium, remains Kazakhstan's pre-eminent crude oil source. The field currently has a nameplate capacity of 600,000 b/d, but produced nearly 650,000 b/d last year, and is undergoing a major expansion project that should lift output to 900,000 b/d in around 2023.

Kashagan, operated by a seven-company international consortium, also appears to be performing strongly, despite periodic reports of glitches. The field came on stream in 2016 after major issues involving leaking pipelines and cost overruns.

In a statement this week, Richard Howe, managing director of North Caspian Operating Company, which runs Kashagan, said production was running as normal and "overall production reliability remains high."

As regards COVID-19, he said NCOC was well prepared and taking preventive measures, no cases of infection had been recorded, and there were no plans to lay off staff in response to low oil prices.

"In general, Kashagan will have a production life of decades. It should be viewed from a long-term perspective rather than in the context of the shorter-term economic climate," Howe said.