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Chinese independent refiner imports US Eagle Ford crude oil from South Korean storage

Singapore — Chinese independent refiner Hongrun Petrochemical received a rare shipment of US Eagle Ford crude from storage tanks in South Korea this week, according to port and shipping data.

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This makes it one of the first US oil cargoes imported by the country in 2019 amid ongoing trade tensions, and is likely triggered by the wide spread between Brent and WTI benchmark futures that makes US crudes cheaper than other oil benchmarks.

Singapore-flagged Aframax tanker Kara Sea, carrying 85,927 mt of Eagle Ford crude, arrived at Qingdao Port on Sunday and Hongrun was the designated receiver, according to a port schedule issued by shipping agents.

The vessel was chartered by BP and loaded from Gwangyang in South Korea on February 1, where crude oil storage farms are located, according S&P Global Platts vessel tracking software cFlow. Kara Sea has reached Qingdao Port's waters and is queuing for discharge.

An official confirmed that the cargo contained US-origin Eagle Ford crude and was received by Hongrun Petrochemical.

Shipping crude from South Korean storage to China shortens the voyage and eliminates the risk of tariffs, amid ongoing uncertainty around trade tensions with the US. Oil producers like Saudi Aramco and trading houses also use storage to wait for better arbitrage opportunities in a weak market.

The wide spread between Brent and WTI likely made the grade more attractive for the refinery, according to a Beijing-based analyst. US crude exports have risen in recent weeks due to the widening Brent/WTI spread, which reached $10/b in mid-February.

In November, independent refinery Yuhuang Petrochemical imported 1 million barrels of Southern Green Canyon crude. US crude shipments to Chinese refiners have fallen since the trade war began, even though China has not imposed any retaliatory tariffs on crude yet.

Eagle Ford is a shale crude with an API of around 46.6 and sulfur content of around 0.08%, making it very light and sweet.

It is rare for Hongrun Petrochemical to import light crudes as the refiner usually processes medium grades, with average APIs of 30-31. Hongrun may use the Eagle Ford shipment to blend into its own crude slate, in order to lower input costs, a trader for another independent refiner, Luqing Petrochemical, said.

"The refinery has a relatively larger refining capacity, as well as a 1.2 million mt/year continuous reformer, which enables it to blend such light crudes into the whole crude feedstock portfolio," the trader said.

Hongrun has a total refining capacity of around 10.7 million mt/year, and started its last 5 million mt/year crude distillation unit around May 2017. The refinery normally processes around 50,000-60,000 mt or crude every month and likes to try out different grades to cut costs. In January 2018 it received its first US crude cargo of 140,000 mt of BM Sour crude.

-- Daisy Xu, daisy.xu@spglobal.com

-- Oceana Zhou, oceana.zhou@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Jonathan Fox, newsdesk@spglobal.com