Ukraine Crisis Could Hit Russia-Europe Oil Flows

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Russia is Europe's top oil supplier and a material disruption of its exports — much like a sharp drop in its gas exports — would be sure to send prices soaring.

Indeed, the current tense state of affairs around Ukraine helped Brent crude futures to touch $90 per barrel on Tuesday for the first time since 2014.

Russia exported around 2.6 million barrels per day of crude oil to Europe in 2021 and was its largest supplier by a wide margin.

The EU countries produce very little oil themselves, with Eurostat data showing that the bloc's dependence on oil imports was almost 97% in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

Russia accounted for about 24% of EU crude imports in 2021. That is actually down from 33% in 2017, but still a much larger share than other top suppliers such as Norway, the US and Kazakhstan which all contributed around 10% or less in 2020-21.

Among individual countries, the top importers of Russian crude include Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Finland and Poland.

Druzhba Pipeline

Russia's Urals crude oil grade is supplied directly to five European countries via the Druzhba pipeline.

Druzhba runs from Russia into neighboring Belarus, where it splits into a northern leg that supplies crude to Poland and Germany as well as a southern leg that runs through Ukraine to supply crude to Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Russia's Druzhba crude exports fell to 720,000 b/d last year from 908,000 b/d in 2020, but they are expected to exceed 900,000 b/d again this year based on data provided by pipeline operator Transneft.

Germany alone was scheduled to receive around 470,000 b/d via Druzhba in the first quarter of this year.

Urals crude is also supplied to Europe from the Baltic Sea ports of Primorsk and Ust-Luga and the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk.

Two other Russian grades — Arco and Novy Port — are also shipped from an Arctic marine terminal to customers in Northwestern Europe.

Previous Supply Disruptions

Russia has a reputation as a reliable crude oil supplier to Europe — one of its two main export markets alongside China — that it will be keen to defend, even if the Ukraine standoff escalates into armed conflict.

The last time that Russian crude supplies to Europe suffered a serious disruption was in 2019, when crude oil contaminated with corrosive organic chlorides was detected in the Druzhba pipeline.

Russia moved quickly to address the problem and negotiated compensation for those customers who received contaminated oil.

Before that, the last significant disruption in Russian crude oil supplies to Europe occurred in 2007 as the result of a dispute between Russia and Belarus.

Market sources say Russia and its industry customers would both prefer to maintain a steady flow of oil into Europe.

They say a major physical disruption is unlikely unless a full-scale war erupts, the Druzhba pipeline is sabotaged, or Ukraine moves to siphon oil from the pipeline.

However, trade flows could also be disrupted if Russian exports are hit by Western sanctions.

Either way, there could be serious financial consequences for Russia if petroleum trade flows take a hit.

Exports of Refined Products

In addition to crude oil, Russia also exported roughly 1.6 million b/d of refined oil products to Europe in 2021.

Russian customs data show that the country's exports of crude oil and refined products to the EU were worth around $82 billion in 2020 and accounted for slightly more than 70% of Russia's total exports to the EU of around $114 billion that year.

For comparison, Russia's total exports to China in 2020 were worth around $49 billion.

Diesel/gasoil represents more than 900,000 b/d of Russia's exports of refined products to Europe, including about 550,000 b/d of ultra-low-sulfur diesel.

Imports make up about 20% of Europe's overall diesel supply and play an important role in determining diesel prices in the region.

Russia is by far the biggest overseas supplier of diesel with a share of 55%, compared to around 11% for Saudi Arabia and 7% for India. So, a sudden decline in its diesel exports would hit the market hard.

US Less Exposed

As a major producer of oil and gas itself, the US is far less exposed to any impacts from a possible interruption of Russian oil exports.

But President Joe Biden is already facing political fallout from high oil prices, which could climb even higher if there is fighting in Ukraine.

The US does import Russian oil, however, which accounted for about 7.5% of combined US imports of crude and refined products in the year through October 2021. The figure for crude alone is smaller, amounting to about 2% of all imports.

Combined US imports of Russian crude and refined products amounted to 540,000 b/d in 2020, compared with 371,000 b/d in 2015, according to federal government data.

Military Conflict, Security Risk , Oil Supply, Crude Oil, Oil Products
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