SEOUL South Korea's crude oil imports rose 3.9 percent in the third quarter of 2016 from a year earlier as it brought in more crude oil from Middle East suppliers including Iran, and its local oil consumption also climbed thanks to low oil prices.
The world's fifth-largest crude importer shipped in 270.4 million barrels of crude oil in the July-September period, or 2.94 million barrels per day (bpd), compared with 260.3 million barrels in the same period in 2015, its energy ministry said on Tuesday in a statement.
Seoul imported 239.2 million barrels of crude oil from Middle East, up 15.8 percent from a year ago, as increased competition between Middle East suppliers drove down prices. Among them, Iranian crude oil imports soared to 29.8 million barrels in the third quarter, up 147.7 percent from a year ago since sanctions were lifted in January.
In terms of oil consumption, Asia's fourth-largest economy used 228.7 million barrels of oil, or 2.49 million bpd, in the third quarter, up 8.1 percent from a year ago and boosted by low oil prices, the ministry statement said.
In the third quarter, South Korea's combined imports of naphtha and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) also increased 14.3 percent to 88.73 million barrels supported by healthy demand for chemical feedstock.
South Korea brought in about half of its LPG from the United States, followed by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in the third quarter of this year as newly expanded Panama canal helped Korea import more LPG from U.S.
By product type, gasoline and diesel fuel consumption for transportation use rose 5.7 percent to 62.45 million barrels in the third quarter from a year ago, while fuel oil consumption jumped 53.5 percent to 9.62 million barrels in the July-September period of 2016, driven by robust summer power demand, the ministry said.
Meanwhile, South Korea's exports dipped to 127.4 million barrels in the third quarter, down 2 percent from a year ago due to higher Chinese diesel exports and increased refining capacity from emerging economies.
The energy ministry releases the country's oil imports, exports and consumption data every quarter but does not provide any outlook for the next quarter.
(Reporting By Jane Chung; Editing by Michael Perry)