* Dec imports at record 6.31 mln bpd, up 13.1 pct on yr
* But 4 pct growth for 2013 down from 6.8 pct rise in 2012
* Net fuel imports down 28.8 pct for whole of 2013
* Crude run data to be released on Jan. 20
By Chen Aizhu and Judy Hua
BEIJING, Jan 10 China's crude oil imports rose
13 percent in December from a year ago to a record 6.31 million
barrels per day as two big refineries reopened, but growth for
2013 was sharply down as demand cooled in the world's
second-biggest oil consumer.
Crude demand for this year could rebound slightly as new
refineries open, though growth may be capped by a lack of
momentum in the broader economy.
China's imports of crude last year rose 4 percent, down from
a 6.8 percent increase in 2012 as demand was hit by a slowing
economy, helping cap global oil prices.
China imported 26.78 million tonnes of crude last month, or
6.31 million barrels per day, according to data from the General
Administration of Customs.
That was 10.1 percent higher than November's 5.73 million
bpd, as two big refineries owned by Sinopec restarted
after planned overhauls.
A steady drawdown in commercial inventories of both crude
and refined fuel also underpinned imports.
But imports were hit by a blast at a Sinopec oil pipeline in
late November that forced the firm to cut production for at
least two of its refineries in China's eastern Shandong
Crude arrivals rose by 216,880 bpd last year, down from an
increase of 340,000 bpd a year ago, partly due to repeated
delays at two refineries, PetroChina's Sichuan and Sinochem's
Quanzhou, that have a total capacity of 440,000 bpd.
China posted a record annual increase of over 1 million bpd
"Even in the absence of these two plants, Chinese refiners
were still heavily exporting refined products. That suggests the
country's refining capacity may already be in surplus," said a
Beijing-based trader at a leading crude exporter.
For the whole of 2013, imports expanded 4 percent to 281.95
million tonnes, or 5.64 million bpd.
LACK OF MOMENTUM
Last year's growth was partly driven by a new crude
importer, state-run ChemChina, that operates several independent
refineries mainly in Shandong. ChemChina is believed to have
used most of its annual import quota of 200,000 bpd.
Traders had hoped that more firms might be allowed to import
crude in 2014 under Beijing's push to open up the market, but so
far no new quotas have been handed out. Such a decision would
normally need to be in place before the start of the new year.
China's crude imports this year should grow at a slightly
quicker pace, with the Sichuan and Quanzhou refineries providing
most of the additional demand.
According to Reuters estimates, these facilities, which
process mostly imported crude oil, would be operating at a total
of 300,000-350,000 bpd on average through this year.
The Sichuan plant is designed to process crude oil from
Kazakhstan and Russia, as well as PetroChina's own productions
in northwest China. The Sinochem plant, in the province of
Fujian, will be eyeing supplies from Iraq, Oman and Kuwait,
traders have said.
China's net fuel imports fell 28.8 percent to 11.08 million
tonnes for 2013, the customs data showed, as dominant state
refiners stepped up exports of surplus diesel and gasoline amid
weaker-than-expected domestic consumptions.
The government is due to release national refinery
throughput data on Jan. 20.
(1 tonne=7.3 bbls for crude)
(Editing by Himani Sarkar and Ed Davies)