Washington — The US will export its first crude oil cargo to Belarus this weekend after an agreement between the two governments in February to increase trade of American goods to the landlocked Eastern European country.
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The 80,000-mt Aframax of Bakken crude -- roughly 600,000 barrels -- started loading Thursday in Beaumont, Texas, and is set to depart Sunday, according to Belarus' Belta news agency, citing Belneftekhim press secretary Alexander Tishenko. The tanker is due to arrive in the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda in early June, he said. The crude will be refined at Belarus' Naftan refinery.
The State Department announced the shipment Friday, saying it was a competitive deal by US trader United Energy Trading, with the assistance of US firm Getka and Polish partner UNIMOT.
Dariusz Cichocki, CEO of Getka, said in an interview Friday that the Belarusian government has made clear its plans for energy diversification. He declined to say how the pricing and transit costs of the Bakken compared to the crude Belarus currently imports.
"With the integration of the global market and their diversification pursuits, they understand how it works and it's a fair-market price," Cichocki said.
"It worked out from a timeline perspective in everybody's best interests," he added. "Overall it was pretty fantastic to work with the team on both sides."
Bakken crude trading along the US Gulf Coast has fallen quiet in recent weeks, sources have told S&P Global Platts. June barrels of the grade in Nederland were assessed Thursday at a $1.90/b premium to the NYMEX WTI Calendar Month Average, or a 2 cent/b discount to WTI at the Magellan Houston terminal.
US Gulf Coast crude differentials have risen sharply in recent days. Bakken USGC pipeline crude has averaged at a 93 cents/b premium to the WTI CMA so far in May, much stronger than April's average $5.77/b discount.
While the US has never sent crude to Belarus until now, it sent the country a small amount of refined oil products, 58,000 barrels, in 2004, US Energy Information Administration data showed.
The US exported crude to 31 countries in February, according to the most recent EIA data.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the US "stands ready to meet the import requirements of countries that, like Belarus, want to benefit from enhanced energy security based on supply diversification and trade rooted in the US commercial values of free enterprise, the rule of law, and transparent deals free of corruption."
Access to US crude is part of Belarus' strategy to diversify supply sources and ensure sustainable operations for its refining sector in 2020 and beyond, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said in a statement.
"We consider cooperation with the United States in the oil sector as an essential element of the state's energy security," he said. "It is an important part of trade and investment cooperation developed between the two parties, which has significant potential, and is also a factor securing the economic sovereignty of our country."