NEW YORK/NEW DELHI: India's state-run Bharat Petroleum Corp is scooping up rising volumes of US crude, people familiar with the matter said, as fuel demand in the Asian country recovers and weak US crude prices make purchases attractive.
Fuel demand in India rose in July to its highest since April as pandemic restrictions and lockdowns were unwound in most states. The country is the world's third-largest crude importer and consumer.
US crude prices have become more attractive for Asian buyers as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia restrain production.
BPCL, the second-largest state-run refiner in India, has purchased about 9 million barrels of US crude for delivery in August, September and October so far, two sources with knowledge of the matter said.
That's more than half the 17 million barrels of US crude Bharat purchased between January and July, they said. Asian countries, including China and South Korea, have also stepped up purchases of cheap US crude barrels this month.
India is mostly buying WTI Midland - the light, sweet crude grade produced in the top US shale region, the Permian Basin, due to attractive prices. Prices of WTI Midland, one of the most popular export grades, traded near the weakest levels in a year in early August. India has also bought some West Texas Light (WTL) grade crude.
Another state-run Indian refiner, Indian Oil Corp, has also been seeking barrels but has been less active in the United States and more focused on the West African crude market so far, traders said. Since April, IOC has been buying US oil under spot deals, one source familiar with the matter said.
Indian state refiners curtailed purchases from top exporter Saudi Arabia earlier this year, as relations between New Delhi and Riyadh turned sour due to rising oil prices.
The refiners however resumed normal purchases in June as Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries supplied liquid medical oxygen and medical aid to help India combat the second wave of coronavirus.
US crude exports have dropped in recent weeks due to spotty fuel demand worldwide. The four-week average of total US crude exports sank to just 2.4 million barrels per day (bpd) in the week to Aug 6, the lowest since February 2019, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Analysts expect US exports to continue to grow, however.
"We are positive that the ongoing revival of US crude to Asia should continue in the upcoming weeks," JBC Energy said in a note.
Commodities merchant Vitol sold 1 million barrels of US crude to BPCL for October, a source familiar with the matter said. Vitol, BPCL and IOC declined to comment.
US oil production has slowly rebounded from its nadir during the first outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. As of May, the last monthly figures available, the EIA showed US output at 11.2 million bpd, after bottoming out one year earlier at 9.7 million bpd.