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South Korea Stays Off Iranian Crude For Four Months

South Korea imported no Iranian crude oil for the fourth month in a row in December, S&P Global Platts reports, citing information from Korea National Oil Corp. During that month, one of the world’s top oil importers increased its intake of crude from Kazakhstan and the United States.

Iranian oil exports to South Korea for full-2018 dived by more than 60 percent to 58.2 million barrels, according to the Korea National Oil Corp. data, from 147.87 million barrels a year earlier.

At the same time, December imports of U.S. crude surged sixfold to 13.61 million barrels, with imports from Kazakhstan doubling to 6.6 million barrels. Imports from Nigeria also increased, to 1.22 million barrels in December.

"We can continue buying lighter oil from Nigeria and other African counties this year as alternatives to Iranian grades because it is uncertain whether the 180-day waiver is being extended," an official from the country’s largest refiner, SK Innovation, said as quoted by S&P Global Platts.

Related: Trump Takes Aim At California Emissions Laws

However, earlier in January, SK Innovation’s CEO told Reuters South Korea will start buying Iranian crude this month or next.

“As South Korea received a waiver and has been in talks with Iran about the first import volume, it seems (Iran oil) could be brought in late in January or early February at the earliest,” the chief executive of the company, Kim Jun said.

South Korea could import up to 200,000 bpd of Iranian crude, most of it the superlight grade called condensate: the country was Iran’s biggest condensate buyer before the sanctions and its third-largest importer of oil.

South Korea seems to be very concerned about breaching sanctions even having a waiver that allows it to import Iranian crude. It is likely that it will stock up on the attractively priced fuel this month and next, before the waivers expire, especially if Washington decides to not extend, which is widely seen as the less likely scenario.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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