Russia Black Sea Oil Flows Declining as Baltic Cargoes Gain

Mar 25, 2014 2:19 pm ET

(Updates with sanctions warning in sixth paragraph.)

March 25 (Bloomberg) -- Russia is poised to cut crude exports from the biggest oil port near Crimea next month while shipping more in the Baltic Sea about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away.

Cargoes will leave the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk at about 620,000 barrels a day in April, the lowest rate since at least 2008, according to loading programs obtained today by Bloomberg News. Daily shipments from Primorsk in the Baltic will average 1 million barrels, the most since November. Igor Dyomin, a spokesman for OAO Transneft, Russia’s pipeline operator, declined to comment.

Russia increases sales from Primorsk in April most years. Next month’s change in volumes between the country’s two main oil terminals will be the largest in a year when measured in barrels. There is also maintenance work scheduled on a pipeline running to Novorossiisk, which is about 70 miles from Crimea, the peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine this month.

“One loading program doesn’t tell you much about whether the shift is strategic, especially given maintenance work on the pipeline,” Miswin Mahesh, an analyst at Barclays Plc in London, wrote in an e-mail. “The timing and scale of this shift is interesting within the context of recent events.”

Russia’s military took control of Ukraine’s Crimea region following the toppling of former president Viktor Yanukovych’s government in Kiev last month. Moscow annexed Crimea on March 21 after a referendum in the peninsula supporting the switch.

The U.S. and European Union have imposed asset freezes and visa bans on Russians, Ukrainians and Crimeans, including political and business figures close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. U.S. President Barack Obama warned today of more sanctions if Russia, the world’s largest energy producer, encroaches farther into Ukraine.

China Shift

The Crimea crisis may accelerate Russia’s drive to send more barrels to China, said Philip Verleger, an energy economist at PKVerleger LLC in Carbondale, Colorado. Russia has been expanding crude sales to Asia in the past several years. China imported a record 2.72 million metric tons from Russia last month. The total more than tripled in a decade, and Russia now represents 12 percent of China’s crude imports, Chinese customs data show.

The changes in Russia’s April export volumes are more likely to reflect seasonal shifts in crude flows, said Ehsan Ul- Haq, a senior consultant at KBC Process Technology in Walton-on- Thames, England.

“Although Russia might be interested in increasing volumes to Asia and to avoid transit countries, it is not easily possible in the short run,” Ul-Haq wrote in an e-mail. “Similarly, Europe will need several years if it wants to wean off Russian crude.”

--With assistance from Rakteem Katakey in New Delhi.