January 23, 2015 / 4:35 AM / 5 years ago

China's Dec Russian crude imports hit record as prices fall

BEIJING/SINGAPORE, Jan 23 (Reuters) - China’s crude oil imports from Russia surged to a record 876,000 barrels per day in December, Chinese customs data showed on Friday, as refiners took advantage of multi-year low spot prices for Russian oil.

For 2014 as a whole, imports of Russian crude jumped 36 percent to a record of about 662,000 bpd, posting the fastest growth among China’s top suppliers.

Russia overtook Oman to become the third-highest exporter to China after Saudi Arabia and Angola, and its exports are set to rise again this year with expected higher flows from the far eastern port of Kozmino, under deals between the nations’ state oil firms.

Chinese state-run refiners Sinopec Corp and smaller ChemChina took at least eight of the 20 cargoes Russian crude ESPO that loaded in December after premiums for the seaborne grade hit multi-year lows due to ample supply, traders said.

“They caught the chance to buy cheap ESPO,” a trader with a North Asian firm said.

Volumes in December were up 86 percent from the same month a year ago.

China now buys Russian oil via both overland pipelines and seaborne tankers. A spur of the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline connects to China’s northeast region, a refining base largely controlled by China’s top energy firm PetroChina .

Russia also pumps some oil via the Kazakhstan-China pipeline that arrives at China’s northwest region of Xinjiang.

Top Russian oil producer Rosneft has also agreed to ship 180,000 bpd of oil to a planned joint venture refinery in northern Chinese city Tianjin from 2020. (Reporting by Chen Aizhu in Beijing and Florence Tan in Singapore; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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