DUBAI, (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia imported around 26,000 barrels per day (bpd) of gasoline in October, around the same amount as in the previous month, traders said on Thursday.
The world’s top oil exporter had been expected to significantly cut back on gasoline imports by the third quarter.
But it has had to keep buying spot barrels because of continued technical problems at the new fluid catalytic cracking (RFCC) unit at Rabigh Refining and Petrochemcial (PetroRabigh), trading sources said.
“We expect to see them import around these levels, because there are still issues at the new unit,” an Asian based trader said.
The OPEC member has been offering high volumes of A962 cracked fuel oil due to the recent outages at the Rabigh refinery cracking unit.
The unit was offline for a whole week early last month and was recently re-started, but it was still unclear if the unit was running at full capacity.
“They have been offering quite a bit of fuel oil on the market, and if they are insisting that there are no issues with the unit then something is wrong with this picture….doesn’t make sense,” a fuel oil trader said.
The unit is primarily designed to refine residual fuel oil into high value components like motor gasoline.
PetroRabigh, $10.3 billion joint venture between Saudi Aramco and Japan’s Sumitomo Chemical started partial operation of the plant at the end of 2008. The integrated facility can produce up to 60,000 bpd of high-octane gasoline that will be converted from fuel oil.
Gasoline imports into the kingdom were expected to fall about 15,000 bpd this year, energy consultancy PFC Energy said.
Demand for the motor fuel, which is heavily subsidised, hit a record high of nearly 400,000 bpd in April, up 6 percent compared to the same period last year, PFC Energy said in a report.