February 17, 2017 / 9:51 PM / a year ago

Brazil importing less light crude as production mix changes

RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Rising output from Brazil’s sub-salt offshore oil fields is allowing state oil company Petrobras to export record volumes of oil and import less light crude for its refineries, a senior executive said.

Cláudio Mastella, executive manager for refining and natural gas logistics, said the move is helping to reduce Petrobras’ operational and logistical costs because lighter oil is easier and cheaper to refine into products like gasoline and diesel.

Rising output from sub-salt, an area off the coast of Rio de Janeiro which has lighter oil than the Brazilian average, helped Brazil cut its crude imports to the lowest level since the 1990s last year while exports set a record in January.

Brazil’s sub-salt production rose to 1.26 million barrels per day (bpd) in December, equivalent to 46 percent of the country’s total output - up from 34 percent a year earlier.

Mastella said that as a result the percentage of Brazilian oil used in Petrobras’ refineries had reached 91 percent, up 10 percentage points over the past five years.

“The properties of the oil from the sub-salt encourages both its use in Petrobras’ refineries in Brazil and for exports, as it has a higher commercial value,” Mastella said in an emailed response to questions.

Brazilian imports fell to their lowest level in 19 years in 2016, data from the Trade Ministry showed this month.

Crude imports fell to roughly 65 million barrels in 2016, nearly half of their 2015 level, the data showed.

Part of that was due to a 4.5 percent fall in domestic fuel consumption amid Brazil’s worst recession on record.

Meanwhile, rising sub-salt production helped Brazil significantly increase exports.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency expects Brazil’s 2017 output to rise 230,000 bpd on the year to 2.84 million bpd.

While Petrobras has forecast its output will slip by 3.5 percent this year to around 2.07 million bpd due to delays in projects coming online, that should be compensated by rising output from other producers.

The government does not produce a forecast for annual oil output.

Figures from energy regulator ANP showed that oil exports from Brazil set a monthly record in January of roughly 1.26 million bpd.

Reuters Trade Flows data showed that total shipments of Brazilian crude - including barrels shipped from the Uruguayan shore - averaged 1.3 million bpd since August, versus 1 million bpd in the first half of 2016.

The Reuters Trade Flows data showed Petrobras and other Brazil producers - including Royal Dutch Shell, Repsol , Petrogal and PetroChina - are competing more aggressively to gain export market share in the U.S. East Coast, China, India, Malaysia, Singapore and Spain. (Reporting by Marta Nogueira in Rio de Janeiro; Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga in Houston; Writing by Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Leslie Adler)

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