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Russia’s Lukoil Ships Arctic Oil To China In Unusual Trade Flow

The trading arm of Russia’s second-largest oil producer, Lukoil, has sold a crude oil cargo to the trading unit of the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) in a rare trade route in the Arctic, Reuters reported on Wednesday, citing shipping data from Refinitiv and two industry sources.

Lukoil’s trading unit Litasco sold a cargo of the Varandey blend to CNPC’s trading arm Chinaoil and the oil tanker, Korolev Prospect, made the voyage via the Northern Sea Route (NSR) from Murmansk to the Chinese port of Dongjiakou—a rare shipment to China via the Arctic instead of via the Suez Canal.

Warm summer allowed for tankers to travel through Arctic waters which are frozen for most of the year. The route via the Arctic is two times shorter in terms of nautical miles than a tanker voyage from Murmansk to a port in China via the Suez Canal, according to Refinitiv data cited by Reuters. The rare shipment via the Arctic was also made possible by the firmer prices of the key Russian blend ESPO preferred by Chinese independent buyers, which made the arbitrage via the Arctic route work, the sources told Reuters.   

The tanker that traveled through the Northern Sea Route, Korolev Prospect, completed the voyage from Cape Zhelaniya to Cape Dezhnev in Russia’s Arctic waters using liquefied natural gas (LNG) as fuel—the first time in the history of shipping that a large-capacity oil tanker has crossed the full length of the Northern Sea Route using only cleaner-burning LNG fuel, Russian shipping firm Sovcomflot said in early September.

The arbitrage for the Arctic route to China has closed since Korolev Prospect made the voyage between end of August and mid-September, and shipments could resume next year, a source familiar with Litasco’s export plans told Reuters.

Russia has been continuously growing its oil exports to China, but in recent months, Saudi Arabia has been China’s top oil supplier as the Kingdom has been significantly boosting exports to the Asian market at the expense of slashing shipments to the most transparently reported market, the U.S. For a second month in a row, Saudi Arabia was China’s biggest oil suppler in August, but the attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure last month could change that in the September data.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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