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Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews. 

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China’s Becomes World’s Next Top Oil Importer

For most of 2017, China’s crude oil imports exceeded those of the U.S. on a monthly basis. Now Chinese crude oil import volumes also surpassed the American imports in annual figures. China was the top oil importing country in the world last year as it brings more refining capacity online and fills strategic inventories, while domestic oil production continues to decline.

Chinese crude oil imports will continue to grow over the next few years as the use of oil products grow along with the economic and refinery capacity expansion, analysts say. The country’s import dependence is also expected to grow as imports rise and production at home declines.

Last year, China surpassed the U.S. in annual gross crude oil imports, EIA data showed on Monday. China imported on average 8.4 million bpd in 2017, compared with 7.9 million bpd of imports for the United States. In total petroleum and other liquid fuels imports, China had become the top global net importer back in 2013.

Meanwhile, U.S. crude oil imports have been lower than 8.5 million bpd in each month since 2013 when the shale revolution was in its first period of expansion, compared to more than 10 million bpd in monthly imports in many of the years of the 2000s.

The continuous rise in Chinese oil imports is due to several factors, the EIA says. These are declining domestic production, growing oil and liquid fuels consumption, a build-up in strategic reserves, refinery sector reform which allows independent refiners to import quotas of crude oil, and increasing refinery capacity and utilization. Related: European Refiners Could Ditch Poor Quality Russian Crude

China’s crude oil and other liquids production dropped the most among non-OPEC nations in 2016, and the EIA expects production to have booked the second-biggest such drop last year. Liquids production in China fell by 2 percent annually to 4.8 million bpd last year and is further expected to drop this year and next.

Crude oil production alone fell by an annual 4 percent to 191.51 million tons — or about 3.85 million bpd in 2017 — to the lowest in nine years, due to maturing fields and few viable new discoveries at home.

While China’s production is declining and is expected to further drop in the coming years, its consumption of petroleum and other liquid fuels last year was the world’s largest for the ninth consecutive year, up by 3 percent to 13.2 million bpd, the EIA said.

Refinery capacity and refinery runs also rose in 2017, with refinery runs estimated to have increased by 500,000 bpd to 11.4 million bpd, partly driven by two refinery expansions in the second half of the year.

A total of 1.4 million bpd of new refinery capacity is planned to open in China by the end of 2019, which, combined with pipeline infrastructure expansion, will likely further raise Chinese oil imports.

While China has continued to boost its oil imports in recent years, it has also lessened its dependence on OPEC’s crude oil. According to the EIA, 56 percent of China’s crude oil imports came from OPEC members last year, compared to a peak of 67 percent in 2012. Over those five years, Russia and Brazil significantly boosted their market shares on the Chinese market, with Russia’s rising to 14 percent from 9 percent, and Brazil’s imports went to 5 percent from 2 percent. Related: Airlines Warn Higher Oil Prices Will Raise Airfares

Last year, Russia was China’s top oil supplier for a second year running, with Russian crude oil sales up 14 percent and beating OPEC’s leader and largest exporter Saudi Arabia for a second consecutive year.

Russia is expected to retain the top spot this year as well, with Russian crude sales to China likely to grow at least 11 percent, Wang Zhuwei, senior analyst with S&P Global Platts China Oil Analytics, said.

According to Platts analysis, China’s imports from OPEC countries increased by 7.1 percent on the year to 4.7 million bpd in 2017, but OPEC’s market share dropped to 55.8 percent from 57.4 percent in 2016. The market share of Middle Eastern producers in China fell even more — to 43.4 percent from 48 percent.

North America’s share of the Chinese market jumped to 2 percent last year from just 0.2 percent in 2016, as U.S. crude oil exports to China surged to make America the 14th largest supplier to China, Platts says. The U.S. also made it once into China’s top ten suppliers list last year — in October — when it was ninth in terms of crude oil sales to China.

As China continues to increase oil imports, more oil producers will be vying to raise their share of the world’s top crude oil import market.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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  • Mamdouh G Salameh on February 06 2018 said:
    China’s crude oil imports are projected to exceed 10 million barrels a day (mbd) in 2018 (compared with 8.4 mbd in 2017) underpinned by economic growth estimated in 2018 at 6.5%.

    In 2017, 71% of China oil demand was satisfied by imports. This is projected to rise 76% by 2020.

    Right now, China is the number one exporter on the globe, the largest crude oil importer in the world and also the world’s largest economy with a GDP of $23.57 trillion in 2017 (compared to $19.36 trillion for the US), based on purchasing power parity (PPP).

    A rising China is also eyeing the benefits of having its own currency play a larger role and supplant the petrodollar in global trade. The initial focus of that trade is oil trade.

    China hopes to challenge the petrodollar by launching this year a crude oil futures contract on the Shanghai Energy Exchange (INE) denominated in Chinese yuan (petro-yuan), potentially creating the most important Asian oil benchmark and allowing oil exporters to bypass the petrodollar by trading in yuan.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London
  • wolfmanmos on February 06 2018 said:
    This may be a dumb question, but why wouldn't China use fracking to extend the life of their oil wells?
  • Jack Almeleh on February 07 2018 said:
    I don't understand how it could be stated that China is the world;s largest consumer of petroleum products at 13.2 million bpd, when the U.S. consumes almost 20 million bpd? Am I missing something? Thanks.
  • kenget on February 15 2018 said:
    2Mamdouh G Salameh:
    >China ... largest economy with a GDP of $23.57 trillion in 2017 (compared to $19.36 trillion for the US)
    Have you just compared ***PPP*** GDP of China with the ***Nominal*** GDP of the US?

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