American Refiners Clean Up Their Act as OPEC Shipments Dry Up

(Bloomberg) -- Oil refiners in the U.S. are using more light crude to fill the gap from the sludgy, sulfurous stuff they used to get from OPEC.

Crude shipments from the 14-member cartel to American ports dipped to a 33-year low in February in part because of the pact between OPEC and allied producers to curb output and forestall a global glut. Chronic issues with Venezuelan output and U.S. sanctions barring most purchases have further strained availability of the heaviest types of oil.

Starved of OPEC supplies, American refiners in February processed the least-dense crude in data going back to 1985. The so-called oil slate refined that month was just 1.25 percent sulfur -- the cleanest in more than 20 years.

U.S. refiners aren’t likely to see OPEC cargoes returning soon. Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, has indicated they’re eyeing an extension of the cuts for the rest of 2019. That comes just days before the last U.S. exemptions allowing purchases of Iranian crude will expire, which will mean stiffer competition for barrels of heavy crude.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.