Reuters: South Korea’s imports of crude oil from Iran fell nearly a quarter in the first two months of this year from a year earlier as the country faced U.S. sanctions pressure targeting Tehran’s nuclear development, Korean official data showed on Friday. By Meeyoung Cho
SEOUL, March 22 (Reuters) – South Korea’s imports of crude oil from Iran fell nearly a quarter in the first two months of this year from a year earlier as the country faced U.S. sanctions pressure targeting Tehran’s nuclear development, Korean official data showed on Friday.
The world’s fifth-largest crude oil buyer imported a total 79.75 million barrels of crude oil in February, down 1.3 percent from a year earlier, data from state-run Korea National Oil Corp showed.
Preliminary data from the Korean government showed earlier this month that the country’s total crude oil imports last month dropped 4.4 percent from a year earlier to 77.3 million barrels.
Of the total crude imports, 3.97 million barrels, or 141,929 barrels per day (bpd), came from Iran last month, down 30.2 percent from a year ago on a daily basis, the KNOC data showed.
Compared with January, its imports of Iranian crude oil last month fell 25.4 percent on a daily basis.
Crude imports from Iran in the first two months of the year dropped 23.7 percent from the same period last year to 9.87 million barrels, the data showed.
South Korea is one of Iran’s major oil buyers, but imports have fallen as European Union sanctions made it tough to deliver, insure and pay for the oil. The West has been heightening its sanctions on Iran as it suspects Tehran wants to develop nuclear weapons, which Iran denies.
However, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its March report that new U.S. sanctions on Iran implemented in February, which barred the country from repatriating oil export earnings, appeared not to have had an impact on February shipments.
Iranian crude oil exports are also expected to hold strong and even exceed 1.4 million bpd in March from 1.28 million bpd in February, said the IEA, which coordinates the energy policies of major consuming nations.
The IEA report was counter to industry expectations that Iran’s may plunge this year with the newly toughed sanctions. The Islamic republic’s crude oil exports in March may plunge by a quarter from a month earlier to the lowest since tight Western sanctions first came into effect in 2012, industry sources said.
South Korea could lift as little as 60,000 bpd from Iran compared with around 142,000 bpd in February. The expected fall in South Korea’s March lifting was partially attributed, though, to heavy maintenance scheduled from March to June, sources said.
Still, South Korea, which reduced crude imports from Iran by 36 percent to 153,400 barrels per day last year, is aiming for a 20 percent cut year on year in the six months to May 31 to secure an extension to the waiver when it comes up for renewal in May.
From December of 2011 through May of 2012, South Korea imported 184,727 bpd of crude oil from Iran, according to Reuters calculation based on KNOC monthly import data.
The accumulated imports of Iranian crude from December through February are equivalent to a daily import rate at 173,267 bpd for the period, according to a Reuters calculation reflecting the latest KNOC data.
To meet the target of reducing Iranian imports 20 percent December through May compared to the same period year on year, South Korea will have to cut Iranian crude imports nearly 25,500 bpd or 15 percent from the December-February rate.
Of four South Korean refiners, SK Energy and Hyundai Oilbank import Iranian crude. (Reporting by Meeyoung Cho; Editing by Tom Hogue)