US Sanctions on Venezuela, Iran Boosted Russia’s Oil Earnings
Heavy crude squeeze means Russia's Urals blend now actually comanding higher price than the more easily refined lights
U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and Iran have had an unplanned side effect: they have increased exports of heavy, sour crude from Russia, Bloomberg reports, adding that calculations have shown Russian oil companies raked in an additional US$905 million at least from these sales between November and July.
The Urals blend is the big winner of the U.S. sanctions, according to Bloomberg’s calculations. Venezuela is one of the main global suppliers of heavy crude, but U.S. sanctions have shrunk its exports significantly. Iran also produces heavy, which has now become less readily available to foreign buyers, freeing up space for Urals. Finally, OPEC members prioritized cutting their heavy crude production as part of their December 2018 agreement and that added to the strain on heavy crude supply.
Like heavy crude in general, Urals normally trades at a discount to Brent. However, like other heavy blends, the Russian one has narrowed the gap since November, when U.S. sanctions against Iran snapped back, despite the waivers granted to eight importing countries. Eventually, it swung to a premium, especially in the Mediterranean, where a lot of Iranian oil used to go.
Right now, Urals is trading at a discount of more than $2 per barrel to Brent crude but at a premium to West Texas Intermediate. It has swung to a premium to Brent several times this year. Meanwhile, according to information from oil data analytics firm OilX, Russia’s overall production is also on the rise, after a temporary decline. As of August, this climbed back above 11.3 million bpd, after dropping below 11.2 million bpd in July.
U.S. sanctions are definitely changing production and price patterns in heavy crude and so is U.S. production. Italy’s Eni said in its latest World Oil Review report recently that last year that the portion of heavier sour crude grades had fallen below 40 percent of the total for the first time ever. At the same time, thanks to the U.S. shale revolution, the share of light, sweet crude increased to more than 20 percent. This, too, has had an effect on the price difference between lighter and heavier crudes.