Despite the embargo, the United States continues to import Russian oil!

A tanker flying the Maltese flag left the Russian port of Taman, in the region of Krasnodar, on the Black Sea on February 22. Loaded with Russian oil, the balla anchored on April 2 at 6:40 p.m. in the bay of the port of San Diego in the United States, according to data from the site marinetraffic.com. Conversely, still in American waters, on the East Coast, another tanker, the Vinjeracflying the Croatian flag, docked on April 4 in the Gulfport Reach Arthur Kil, in New York’s Port Elizabeth, after a 26-day, 18-hour voyage from the Russian port of Ust-Luga, in the Saint Petersburg region. , on the Baltic Sea.

At least seven tankers from Russia are still sailing to the United States according to data from marinetraffic.com. These maritime flows illustrate the persistence of hydrocarbon exchanges between Russia and the United States despite the embargo announced almost a month ago. Since the President of the United States Joe Biden signed the decree on March 8 prohibiting, among other things, imports of Russian oil, deliveries have not been interrupted. If in the week (from Friday to Friday) ending March 4, they amounted to 148,000 barrels per day (b/d), they fell the following week – therefore after the signing of the decree – to 38,000 b/d, then rose to 70,000 bpd in the week of March 18, to intensify during the week of March 25 to 100,000 bpd, according to the latest official data from the US Energy Information Agency (EIA ).

Anger of American dockers

Why ? Because the decree specifies that will be authorized the purchases that have already been the subject of a contract (signed before March 8). (…) And for existing contracts, we allow a liquidation period of 45 days”, had specified the White House. This deadline is in fact granted to take into account the shipping time by tanker of the volumes purchased, which can last several weeks depending on the port of departure. If the embargo is respected, there should be no more Russian oil arriving in American ports from Saturday April 23.

However, this continuation of Russian oil purchases is the subject of protests from associations but also from the powerful union “the international longshore and warehouse union”, whose branch of dockworkers refuses to work for the benefit of ships from Russia. And for good reason, on March 8, a senior White House official announced an embargo with immediate effect. “The ban is effective immediately. We are blocking any new purchases of Russian energy” (in addition to oil, coal and LNG are concerned), he declared.

However, as US sanctions are tightening and the delivery deadline imposed by the decree is approaching, uncertainty is growing about Russian oil deliveries. More than 20 tankers that have left Russian ports since the invasion – together carrying nearly 8.5 million barrels of oil – are now displaying their status as ‘For Orders’ or ‘Drifting’, indicating a lack of destination, according to the Russian Tanker Tracking Group, an initiative led by the Ukrainian government to observe Russian oil sales.

So, as the story goes New York Times Yesterday, the ship Beijing Spirit, which was due to dock in Philadelphia, reportedly lost the buyer for its oil and changed its destination to “for order”, indicating that the oil on board is for sale. The tanker then turned back to Europe before spending several days bouncing around the Mediterranean.

Reorganization of the American refining sector

This period during which Russian oil imports continue will also be conducive to the reorganization of the American refining sector to find alternatives. Because if the United States is much less dependent on Russian oil than European countries, these imports are far from negligible.

In 2021, the Russian share of oil imports from the United States amounted to 8%. In detail, this was broken down into 3% of crude oil imports, and 20% of petroleum products. Indeed, more than half of these Russian imports are intermediate petroleum products (see graph below).

Due to the distribution of the refining sector in the United States, concentrated on the American coasts of the Gulf of Mexico, it is indeed more profitable to import specific products on the west coast of the country than on the east coast more limited refining. Indeed, depending on the type of “crude” imported, the sulfur content varies and requires several cracking operations to obtain the products to be consumed: gasoline, kerosene, diesel, diesel…

Because Uncle Sam is still very addicted to black gold, even if he has become the world’s leading producer. Last January, the United States produced 17.6 million barrels per day (mbd) but consumed 24.82 mbd, according to data from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Diversification of sources of supply

Joe Biden has just asked Canada, the United States’ leading supplier of crude ahead of Mexico, and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia and Colombia (Russia hitherto ranked 8th), to increase its production. Last week, the American president had also authorized the use of 568 million barrels of strategic reserves at the rate of 1 mbd over 6 months, i.e. the equivalent of 180 million barrels with the aim of lowering prices at the pump, and calm inflation to its 40-year high.

The United States could also turn to other countries such as India for supplies. As its oil production remains modest (around 770,000 b/d) to meet its needs, India captures a large part of Russian deliveries. According to one observer, oil “swaps” – a contract which provides for the exchange of a variable price against a fixed price relating to a volume of defined products – have increased sharply since the announcement of the American embargo. Thus, Russian oil delivered to India could be resold to other countries, this time from the intermediate country and not marked with the country of origin.