Low oil demand pushes global stock capacity to over 80%

China's oil stocks to reach 1.1 billion barrels this month while India has fullest storage capacity, experts say

Ovunc Kutlu, Nuran Erkul Kaya   | 15.04.2020
Low oil demand pushes global stock capacity to over 80%


Low oil consumption, the rising supply glut around the world and weak crude prices due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) have caused a build-up in global oil stocks whose storage capacity is now more than 80% full.

Quarantine measures along with the decline in transportation and weak economic activities have decreased global oil demand by around 20 million barrels per day (bpd). To mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19, Saudi Arabia and Russia met on March 6 but failed to make deeper output cuts, which pushed crude prices on March 30 to their lowest levels since 2002.

Led by the two countries, the 23-member group, known as OPEC+, agreed on April 12 to curb their total output by 9.7 million bpd starting from May 1. However, the absence of cuts until then means oil companies and governments need to find solutions to the storage of produced crude.

The U.S. government's Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR) had a capacity of 713 million barrels as of September 2019, according to the country's Energy Information Administration (EIA). However, for the week ending April 3, 635 million barrels of crude oil were already in SPR, meaning that approximately 89% of SPR capacity in the country is full.

According to EIA data, private American companies had a commercial crude oil stock capacity of 586 million barrels as of September 2019. For the week ending April 3, commercial crude inventories totaled 484.4 million barrels, bringing storage capacity to 82.6%.

In support of the U.S. oil industry, U.S. Energy Minister Dan Brouillette said Tuesday the government would award nine oil-producing firms in the U.S. a total of 23 million barrels of oil storage capacity.

China's oil stocks to reach 1.1 billion barrels

China's oil stocks rose by 100 million barrels during the January-March period of this year to reach 1 billion barrels, according to data from U.S.-based digital oil analytics firm OilX.

In March, OECD European countries saw their total oil stocks surpass 560 million barrels while India, the world's largest oil importer after the U.S. and China, had its oil stocks rise above 70 million barrels last month.

OilX projects that China's oil stocks will reach 1.1 billion barrels this month, while OECD European countries will reach around 580 million barrels and India's oil stocks are estimated to climb to around 75 million barrels. 

India’s storage almost full

In terms of global oil storage capacity, "India is pretty much the fullest we think, and the state had to step in and make extra space available," Florian Thaler, CEO and co-founder at OilX, told Anadolu Agency, adding that the country has built three oil storage locations to store around 37 million barrels.

"We [the U.S.] reckon we are around 75% filled and will need two more months before being close to the top," Thaler said.

"In terms of stock capacity rented, we could argue that pretty much all 90-95% have been booked already, but it will take several weeks to get it filled up," he said.

Thaler also noted some massive oil stock increases in China as well as the U.S., while Saldanha Bay in South Africa has started to fill up.

OPEC+ cuts to delay market hitting full storage by two months

Paola Rodriguez-Masiu, Norway-based Rystad Energy’s senior oil markets analyst, said they estimate about 82% of the world’s crude oil storage capacity is currently used right now.

"China experienced the biggest increase in crude stocks in March 2020," she said, adding most countries have limited storage capacity, but only China and the U.S. currently have significant spare storage capacity.

The analyst said the OPEC+ supply cut would delay the market "hitting a wall" of full storage by about two months by allowing more time for global oil demand to improve and companies to prepare.

The implementation of 9.7-million-bpd OPEC+ cut would still lead to large crude stock build-ups in April and May, she said, stressing the market would be able to avoid reaching the “storage brink” in May, as it could be pushed back until July.

"This will help global E&Ps [exploration and production companies] better prepare and support oil prices," she explained.

However, she warned that since oil companies will reduce their costs, which will lower their crude oil production in the long-term, it would "come back to haunt the market with the risk of price spikes 18-24 months down the line."

Turkey's total crude stock capacity totals 15 million tons

Energy Studies Director at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Hakan Berument, said several refineries worldwide started to stock crude oil based on concerns that the novel virus could cause a halt in physical oil transportation.

These concerns also led to an increase of refinery crude stocks, he noted.

Berument also explained the strategies applied by countries with both oil reserves and commercial stocks.

"G20 countries need to keep strategic oil reserves equivalent to 90 days of net imports,” he said.

He explained that the critical point is to have sufficient storage of lower priced crude oil to cover the needs of each country.

“In this period, the U.S., China and India, in particular, have started to fill their strategic reserves, too," he added.

Berument stated that Turkey, as a G20 country, has taken liability for keeping strategic reserves corresponding to 90 days of its net imports.

"The 90-days of imports corresponds to Turkey’s obligation of 7.65 million tons of crude stocks. The stock average for 2019 amounted to 6.22 million tons, which means that Turkey filled 81% of its stock obligation last year," he said adding that Turkey's total crude stock capacity is estimated to be 15 million tons.

According to Turkey’s market regulatory data, Turkey's oil imports stood at 31 million tons in 2019.

"In practice, refinery license owners keep the reserves on behalf of the government in Turkey. I think that Turkish refineries also have the same concerns as other refineries in the world and they are making efforts to increase their stocks," he said.

Berument concluded that Turkey has increased its stock capacity since last year.

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