NEW DELHI, March 18 (Reuters) – India’s crude imports rose in February to 4.86 million barrels per day (bpd), their highest since December 2020, preliminary data from trade sources showed, as refiners cranked up runs to meet increasing demand on better refining margins.
Oil imports by Asia’s third-largest economy rose 5% from January and were up 24% from a low base in February 2021, when a refinery at Bathinda in northern India was fully shut for maintenance, data showed.
Indian refiners typically buy oil two months ahead of processing. Refiners are raising runs to cash in on high margins to offset some of the losses incurred for selling fuels in the local markets.
Some Indian refiners have also deferred maintenance shutdowns of units to gain from exports, while meeting rising local fuel demand.
Local fuel sales in India, the world’s third biggest oil importer and consumer, has been rising since the government lifted COVID-19 induced curbs as infections subsided.
India, the world’s third-biggest oil importer and consumer, ships in more than 80% of its crude needs and relies heavily on the Middle East.
Its reliance on the Middle East is, however, declining as refiners diversify their sources of oil imports to buy cheaper barrels from elsewhere to boost margins, a move that has cut the OPEC’s share in India’s oil imports.
Last month, the share of grades from Canada and the United States in India’s oil imports surged 14% to their highest in a year, while purchases from the Middle East grew the least since October 2021.
The share of African oil rose to a four-month high in February, the data showed.
Iraq continued to be the top oil supplier to India followed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.
Kuwait emerged as the fourth-biggest supplier to India, replacing Nigeria, which slipped to No. 6 as Canada took No. 5 spot.
Reporting by Nidhi Verma; Editing by Anil D’Silva