* Around 90 pct of imports covered by TNK-BP’s Lisichansk
* Exports rose 20 pct to 5.7 mln t
* Fuel shortage issue was politically sensitive last year
By Maxim Nazarov
MOSCOW, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Russia, the world’s top crude producer, more than doubled gasoline imports last year in an attempt to ease politically-sensitive fuel shortages before the national election cycle began, statistics showed on Friday.
According to Petromarket statistics agency, around 90 percent of total gasoline imports were shipped by TNK-BP’s Lisichansk refinery in Ukraine, as was the case in 2010.
Sources at TNK-BP have said the company enjoyed a preferential export duty while sending oil to the Ukrainian refinery and importing back gasoline volumes to Russia.
Output at Lisichansk totalled 100,000 barrels per day in 2010.
The government in May hiked gasoline and naphtha export duties to fight off an all-out fuel crisis in some Russian regions, where thousands of car owners lined up at pumping stations for hours waiting to fill their tanks.
But despite all the efforts to preserve necessary volumes at home and avert a PR disaster ahead of the parliamentary elections in December 2011, total gasoline exports from Russia jumped by a fifth to 5.7 million tonnes (114,000 barrels per day) in 2011, according to the Energy Ministry.
Exports rose significantly in the first half of the year when companies rushed to sell their refining products abroad in search of a bargain.
Domestic fuel production edged up 1.6 percent to 36.6 million tonnes, while imports totalled 1.16 million tonnes, up 120 percent compared to 2010.
Russian Energy Minster Sergey Shmatko said on Friday that the government and oil companies have agreed to freeze fuel retail prices at December 2011 levels. (Writing by by Vladimir Soldatkin; editing by Keiron Henderson)