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Eastern Canadian Oil Heads to U.S. West Coast in Unusual Demand Shift

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 4/16/2021 Sheela Tobben and Lucia Kassai
a large body of water with a city in the background: A Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo, California, U.S., on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. The company is the latest in a string of U.S. refiners to say it’s converting an oil refinery in California into a biofuel plant as gasoline loses its luster to fuels derived from agricultural and waste products. © Bloomberg A Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo, California, U.S., on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. The company is the latest in a string of U.S. refiners to say it’s converting an oil refinery in California into a biofuel plant as gasoline loses its luster to fuels derived from agricultural and waste products.

(Bloomberg) -- Canadian oil sellers are sending exports to the U.S. West Coast, an unexpected move prompted by the staggered global demand recovery from the pandemic.

For the second time this month, a tanker will load crude from eastern Canada’s oil-rich Newfoundland province and head to the U.S. West Coast, shipping fixtures compiled by Bloomberg show. The BP Plc-booked Aquasurazo is set to receive supplies this weekend destined for the Cherry Point refinery in Washington. Last week, a Chevron Corp.-chartered vessel loaded at the same province and is en route to deliver crude to plants in California.

The rare voyages reflect the changing needs -- albeit temporary -- of the largest buyers of Newfoundland’s crude. While a swift vaccine rollout is boosting consumption in the U.S., demand remains muted in Europe with various lockdown restrictions in place. Canada is also facing similar confining measures. The shifts in consumption are resulting in growing piles of unsold supply in the Atlantic Basin.

“The Atlantic Basin imbalance and continued lockdowns in Canada are creating a temporary crude market dislocation,” said Zachary Rogers, director for Global Oil Service at Rapidan Energy Group. “Even faraway refiners would buy it at the right differential.”

The Newfoundland cargoes, each about 600,000 barrels, are set to arrive on the West Coast in May. California, the nation’s most populous state, is on a path to reopening and is expected to drop most virus restrictions this summer. In the past, oil exports from the province to the U.S. have targeted the East Coast and Gulf Coast, according to Statistics Canada.

Meanwhile, inventories are ballooning in the Atlantic Basin where West African and North Sea sellers are facing unusually weak demand from their typical buyers in Europe and Asia. In addition to lockdown measures, consumption is also weak with seasonal maintenance taking place at refineries.

Last week, Eastern Canadian refineries that would use Newfoundland crude were running at 69% of their capacity, up from 58% a year earlier but down from 87% in early April of 2019, long before the pandemic struck, Canadian Energy Regulator data show.

“East Canadian oil is traveling to further to find a home,” said Randy Giveans, senior vice president of Equity Research for Energy Maritime at Jefferies LLC. The long trip, which is expected to include transiting the Panama Canal, isn’t cheap and sellers would have discounted prices to offset the extra cost, he said.

BP said it does not comment on its day-to-day operations.

(Updates with Canadian refinery runs in the seventh paragraph.)

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