BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s May crude oil imports eased away from record highs hit the month before, customs data showed, with state-run refineries entering planned maintenance and some independent plants told to curb operations ahead of a summit at a key port city.
May shipments were 39.05 million tonnes, or 9.2 million barrels per day (bpd), according to data released on Friday by the General Administration of Customs. That compared to 9.6 million bpd in April and 8.76 million bpd in May, 2017.
Imports for the first five months of 2018 were 190 million tonnes, customs said, without giving a comparison. Based on last year’s figures, the year-to-date levels represent an increase of 7.8 percent over a year earlier.
Sinopec Shanghai Petrochemical, Sinopec Yangzi and PetroChina’s Dalian and Jilin were scheduled for regular major repair works between April and May.
At least five independent plants in the eastern province of Shandong have been ordered to cut operating rates as Beijing aims for blue skies for a regional summit in the port city of Qingdao in June.
But May imports were up nearly 5 percent from a year earlier and were not too far off record levels as margins remained healthy for large state refiners.
“Overall, independents continued to be the main driver for incremental growth due to more quotas, and state refiners PetroChina and CNOOC also contributed to a large extent to the imports due to commissioning of new plants,” said Seng-Yick Tee of consultancy SIA Energy.
Fresh from the completion of a planned shutdown, Sinopec’s second-largest plant, Maoming in the southern province of Guangdong, processed at record rates in May
Data also showed China’s refined fuel exports reached 6.13 million tonnes, up from 5.12 million tonnes in May and off a record 6.69 million tonnes in March.
Fuel exports are handled exclusively by state-run firms which have been granted a total of around 43 million tonnes of export quotas for the whole of 2018, a level flat with last year.
China’s natural gas imports - including pipeline gas and liquefied natural gas - were 7.4 million tonnes in May, up 36.5 percent from a year-ago level, as companies maintained strong buying to fill storage and cover robust industrial demand.
Year-to-date imports hit 34.8 million tonnes, also 36 percent higher than the same period in 2017.
Reporting by Chen Aizhu; Editing by Joseph Radford