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Japan’s 2021 crude imports seen falling 5-10% on year amid COVID-19: PAJ chief

Japan’s crude oil imports will likely drop 5-10% on the year in 2021, without a recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, Petroleum Association of Japan President Tsutomu Sugimori said Jan. 21, extending the decline after falling to the lowest level in decades last year.

“When considering our crude imports henceforth, it would not increase, judging from domestic [oil] demand of about 90-95% [of a year ago level],” Sugimori told an online press conference. “Instead it would drop by about 5-10%.”

“Should the current situation [over the coronavirus pandemic] continue, it is unlikely we would take more crude oil from a year ago,” he added.

Sugimori’s remarks underlined Japan’s difficulty to increase its crude oil imports without a meaningful recovery from the pandemic, which has slashed the country’s domestic demand for transport fuels.

Japan’s crude oil imports dropped 18.2% year on year to 2.46 million b/d over January-November 2020, with the November imports of 2.30 million b/d falling to the lowest level for the month in 54 years, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry data.

Japan’s gasoline demand in January is now seen dropping by 10% year on year, following the declaration of the state of emergency, Sugimori said. He added that the motor fuel demand started falling sharper from around the end of last year to the new year after the government asked the public to refrain from going out during the holiday season.

Over 55% of Japan’s total population of over 130 million is currently under a month-long state of emergency to curb the spread of COVID-19 until Feb. 7. The restriction measures cover Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba and Tochigi in the east; Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo in the west; Fukuoka in the southwest, as well as Gifu and Aichi in the central region.

Amid cold spells, Japanese refiners also expect kerosene demand for heating to surge 25% from a year earlier in January, Sugimori added.

Emergency supply

Japanese refiners, which have responded to emergency requests from power utilities for direct burning crude and fuel oil supply in January, do not plan to increase their direct burning crude or fuel oil supply in February and March, Sugimori said.

The refiners’ move followed a rare emergency fuel supply request from the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan to the PAJ on Jan. 7 in the wake of a surge in power demand following severe cold spells hitting the country.

“If the oil thermal power generation will be utilized in the event of emergency in the future, we are requesting once again to use it for a certain run rate during normal times,” said Sugimori, who was referring to PAJ’s previous requests to use some oil regularly in order to be functioned as a backup source of electricity.

In the wake of tightened power supply concerns, Hokuriku Electric said Jan 21 it has secured additional fuel oil for power. Shikoku Electric also said Jan. 21 it is working to procure more fuel oil from Japan and abroad.

Chugoku Electric and Kansai Electric have also said the utilities are working to procure more fuel oil or crude oil for power generation as part of measures to respond to the tightened power supply-demand balance.

Japanese power utilities typically use low sulfur fuel oil, high sulfur fuel oil and low sulfur direct burning crude oil for power generation.

Power demand

Japan’s power demand peaked on Jan. 8, and electricity demand in the first-half of January increased by about 10% compared with a year earlier, according to documents presented at METI’s power and gas policy subcommittee on Jan. 19. It has since dropped below the year-earlier level.

In line with the easing of power demand, Japan’s overall thermal power plant utilization rates, including coal, oil and LNG have also dropped.

Overall thermal power plant utilization peaked twice during winter, at 88% on Jan. 8 and at 86% on Jan. 12, before dropping to 62% on Jan. 17.

Japan’s oil-fired power plant utilization rates fell to around 25% as of Jan. 17, down from around 64% on Jan. 12 after having peaked at just above 88% on Jan. 8, according to the METI documents.
Source: Platts

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