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Low refining in Africa triggers spike in regional fuel imports

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Low output from refineries in many African countries continues to raise importation of fuel, despite a projection that oil demand in the continent is recovering steadily with demand likely to reach pre-coronavirus pandemic levels by the second half-year, analysts have said.

Compared with other regions such as Europe where oil demand is unlikely to reach pre-pandemic heights till at least early next year as mobility restrictions weigh on fuel needs, fewer restrictions in the continent are expected to aid oil consumption from H2 2021 and exceed it by Q3 2022.

Analysts at Africa-focused oil consultancy CITAC, note that fuel imports into the continent remain strong, with West Africa expected to remain the largest importer until the start-up of the Dangote refinery in late 2022/early-2023.

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Indeed, overall refining output in Africa remains low as many refineries remain closed or are operating intermittently, according to CITAC.In Nigeria, all four NNPC refineries have not had any output since Q2, 2019, CITAC said. Operations at Port Harcourt could start soon after the necessary financing was secured, although no timeline has been announced yet, Platts has reported.

Although the nation’s refineries located in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna did not process any crude oil in the last quarter of 2021, about N19.7b was spent by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to maintain the facility.

A further review from NNPC’s monthly data showed that within 19 months from July 2019 to January 2021, the government-owned refineries in Nigeria recorded a total loss of N177.21bn, despite not refining any crude.

The refineries, which are located in Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Warri, have a combined installed capacity of 445,000 barrels per day but have continued to operate far below the installed capacity.

The country relies largely on the importation of refined petroleum products as its refineries have remained in a state of disrepair for many years despite several reported repairs.

In South Africa alone, refinery output fell 28 per cent last year as all refineries were closed in April and May during the lockdown. South Africa is also increasingly relying on imports because of refinery closures. It has imported around 296,000 b/d of refined products so far in 2021, according to estimates from data intelligence firm Kpler. This is the highest in almost a decade and compares with 198,000 b/d and 178,000 b/d in 2020 and 2019 respectively, Kpler data showed.

In April, South Africa’s Engen said it will be proceeding with the conversion of its Durban refinery into a terminal. The refinery has been shut since fire and explosion broke out there on Dec. 4. A second refinery in the country, Astron Energy’s Cape Town, will remain closed until 2022, after an incident in July 2020, according to S&P Global Platts data.

Elsewhere in Africa, Cameroon’s Limbe refinery, which suffered from a fire at the end of May 2019, remains offline, while Ghana’s Tema refinery is operating intermittently, Platts has reported.

CITAC’s Executive Director Elitsa Georgieva said demand fundamentals remain positive for the long term, with the product mix shifting towards lighter oil products as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the energy transition.

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“Despite some changes in consumption patterns and energy mix shifts overall consumption grows,” said Georgieva on a webinar. “2022 demand is expected to be 3.2% above 2019.”

Similarly, S&P Global Platts Analytics expects African oil demand to reach 4.75 million b/d in the fourth quarter of 2021, the highest since Q4 2019 when it was at 4.94 million b/d. For 2021, demand will average 4.50 million b/d from 4.37 million b/d in 2019, Platts Analytics added.

African LPG demand, which is used for cooking, has been very strong in the past few years, and it is one of the only products that saw demand rise in 2020 as more people stayed home because of lockdowns. Similarly, kerosene growth was boosted by increased heating demand.

Severe lockdown measures predominantly affected gasoline demand in 202 but modest growth is expected this year. Gasoil demand has been more resilient as Africa’s mining industry is a keen consumer of gasoil for its industrial power needs.

But the forecast for fuel oil looks “relatively bleak,” according to James McCullagh, another executive director at CITAC.

“We see an increasingly difficult investment space for fuel oil,” McCullagh said. “The pool of funding available for these projects is sinking. The sulfur requirements are also becoming more stringent.”

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CITACfuel importsNNPC
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