Saudi Arabia Is Starting To Stockpile Oil Again

By Julian Lee

The key OPEC oil producers seem to be finding it harder than expected to sell their output overseas. The probable resulting build-up in their stockpiles should at least help them offset the drop in Iranian supplies as U.S. sanctions start to bite deeper.

 Crude oil exports from the five Persian Gulf Arab members of OPEC fell by about 1.1 million barrels a day last month, after surging in June, according to Bloomberg tanker tracking.
 Some of the spare barrels may have been used locally, either processed in refineries or burnt in power stations. But probably not as much as would have been the case in previous summers.

Take Saudi Arabia, whose oil consumption rises during the hot months as demand for electricity to run air conditioners outstrips the amount available from gas-fired power stations. The use of crude in power generation can rise by as much as 600,000 daily barrels, according to figures from the Joint Organisations Data Initiative. But that has been reduced in the past couple of years as more gas becomes available. Last year it was about 430,000 barrels.

 Peak Shaving
Saudi Arabia is burning less crude to meet peak summer electricity demand
Argan Oil / Camel Oil, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Argan Oil / Camel Oil, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

In any case, much of the seasonal increase in oil demand would already have happened by June and summer temperatures in Saudi Arabia haven’t been that high this year. Bloomberg data show temperatures this year dipping below their average for the prior five years from mid-July, although 91 degrees Fahrenheit is plenty hot enough. Still, there’s unlikely to have been an abnormally big upswing in oil consumption for power generation.

Summer Heat

Temperatures in Saudi Arabia have dipped below five-year average levels since mid-July

If the oil hasn’t been consumed or left the country, it must have gone into local storage tanks – historical data suggest Saudi Arabia has plenty of capacity. The kingdom’s stored crude has been falling for almost three years and continued to drop as Riyadh cut production last year.

Ready to Rise?

Saudi crude stockpile may be due a rebound after falling for nearly 3 years

The return of U.S. sanctions on Iran has already hit the country’s oil exports, and it’s almost certainly going to get worse. Bloomberg tanker tracking in July shows the country’s crude and condensate exports have already fallen by about 430,000 barrels a day, or 15 percent, from their April peak.

I’ve written before about how producers will struggle to make up for the drop in Iranian exports on top of the decline in Venezuelan flows and disruption in Libya. Building up stockpiles might not have been its deliberate intention, but it will help Riyadh take maximum advantage when Donald Trump’s sanctions really hit.

Source: bloomberg.com

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