HOUSTON, Dec 11 (Reuters) - Spot exports of West Coast gasoline to Mexico are picking up, just as major gasoline-producing units in Southern California and Washington are off line for unexpected maintenance.
The sudden uptick in Mexican demand could spell trouble for West Coast gasoline markets, which have already experienced volatile price swings in the past two weeks on refinery issues.
Tesoro on Friday confirmed unplanned work continued at its 251,000 barrel-per-day Carson refinery in Los Angeles, which went down at the end of November, and at its 125,000 barrel-per-day Anacortes refinery in Washington, which shut earlier this week following a power outage.
Both upsets have impacted fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) units at the facilities, according to sources and a report on Friday from Energy News Today.
The unplanned outages coincide with an uptick in demand from Mexico following a fire at that country's largest refinery in November. The fire affected an alkylation unit, which is key to premium gasoline production.
The outage, coupled with seasonal demand, has prompted PMI, the trading arm of Mexican state oil company Pemex, to enter the West Coast market to secure spot gasoline cargoes, several sources said.
The Oriental Emerald is slated to load premium and regular gasoline from Tesoro's Anacortes, Washington refinery, and set to discharge at the Mexican port Lazaro Cardenas, according to a West Coast shipping source.
Meanwhile, the Dong-a Triton was confirmed as moving refined products for PMI, a trade source said. That vessel loaded in Richmond, California on Dec. 9, and is headed to Lazaro Cardenas, according to Reuters vessel tracking data.
A third ship carrying refined products, the Ridgebury Rosemary, loaded in Los Angeles and is headed to Rosarito, Mexico, according to vessel tracking data. The buyer of that ship was not confirmed.
California state regulators require a boutique blend of gasoline, with more stringent anti-pollution standards than gasoline produced in other parts of the country. The specificity of the blend makes the market particularly sensitive to supply disruptions.
The move to export cargoes comes as Los Angeles was already importing refined products vessels this week to handle its own supply shortage. (Reporting by Liz Hampton in Houston and Jarrett Renshaw in New York; Editing by Andrew Hay)