London — Most Mediterranean and Urals crude markets have strengthened this week, boosted by the absence of Iraq's Kirkuk from the prompt spot market, prompting end-users to seek replacement barrels.
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Flows from northern Iraq -- where Kirkuk is produced -- to tanks operated by Iraq's State Organization for Marketing of Oil in Ceyhan, Turkey, were halted early last month amid ongoing disagreement over oil and gas payments between the Kurdistan Regional Government and central government in Baghdad.
Loading delays at Ceyhan have risen above 20 days, sources said.
"The situation is a total disaster," a crude trader said. "There has been no news from SOMO, and vessels have been waiting for nearly a month on demurrage. People should be nominating vessels for the July program."
The resulting absence of one of the region's most reliable sour crude grades, prompted end-users to seek out the promptest alternatives.
"Basrah was coming into the Med a bit more, but Tupras, who is one of the biggest buyers of Kirkuk, has issued, and reissued and reissued tenders for any sour grade they can find into the Med," a trading source said.
"Any Basrah into the Med has been bought by Tupras."
Turkish refiner Tupras typically receives Kirkuk both via the Kirikkale-Ceyhan pipeline and by tanker. Since Kirkuk stopped flowing in June, the company has issued a series of tenders calling for Basrah Light, Urals, Russia's Siberian Light, Colombia's Vasconia, and Libya's Al Jurf and Bouri.
Values have soared in the region as a result.
Urals Aframax cargoes, basis CIF Augusta, were assessed flat to Dated Brent Thursday, their highest level since late November despite a longer loading program out of the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk in July.
"Kirkuk is driving everything," a trader said.
"It has been bullish on Urals, especially in the Mediterranean, and on Siberian Light both because of Kirkuk and because the total Urals [export] volume is not so significant...Tupras has been tendering almost every second day looking for different grades because they can't find enough Urals."
The first half of the July Urals loading program has been fully sold, traders said.
Similarly, Mediterranean sweet crude markets have pushed higher, particularly Azeri Light and CPC Blend.
On Thursday, Aframax cargoes of Azeri Light were assessed at a $1.60/barrel premium to Dated Brent, the highest level since mid-April.
Offers for remaining July volume have been coming from the other side of Dated Brent plus $2/b, traders said.
Aframax cargoes of CPC Blend have also pushed higher, assessed at Dated Brent minus $0.15/b, up from Dated Brent minus $0.50/b on June 25.
"It is definitely the lack of sour that has been the driver of everything," a trading source said, adding that offers for July cargoes of CPC Blend were coming from flat to Dated Brent.
More than two thirds of the Azeri Light and CPC Blend July programs have been sold, market sources said.