Maiden Bakken oil cargo to Asia ships out, with more to come

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The first ever reported export of North Dakota’s crude oil to Asia left port last month, according to a shipping document seen by Reuters on Wednesday, in what is expected to be the first of numerous cargoes once the key Dakota Access pipeline starts moving oil in May.

Swiss-based Mercuria Energy Trading S.A. loaded more than 600,000 barrels of Bakken crude, as well as some Mars Sour crude, in late March off the coast of Louisiana onto the very large crude carrier (VLCC) Maran Canopus, destined for Singapore, according to the bill of loading and ship tracking data.

The burgeoning appetite for U.S. crude among Asian refiners could be a boon for Bakken crude, especially when the Dakota pipeline starts up. That line can carry 470,000 barrels per day of oil from North Dakota’s Bakken play to the Gulf, the starting point for the lion’s share of U.S. oil exports.

At least two Asian refiners told Reuters that they are interested in Bakken light crude because of the products it can yield through refining.

“There seems to be increasing demand for light quality crude in Asia,” said Michael Cohen, head of energy commodities research at Barclays. “I think with Dakota Access coming online, it makes the pipeline route from the Bakken to the Gulf Coast more economical.”

Mercuria could not immediately be reached for comment.

With the start of Dakota Access (DAPL), Bakken producers such as Hess Corp and Continental Resources for the first time will have a direct route to export terminals on the Gulf Coast, better connecting them to international markets.

A year ago, Hess Corp sold Bakken crude out of the U.S. Gulf to Europe, the first reported export of the light North Dakota oil since Congress lifted the ban on exporting crude in 2015.

“As DAPL opens up supply of Bakken crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast, we are looking at potential exports to customers in South America, Europe and Asia,” said Lorrie Hecker, a spokeswoman for Hess.

Continental Resources declined to comment.

While new exports of Bakken could be a boon for North Dakota producers, they will also dump more U.S. crude into the global oil market at a time when OPEC and non-OPEC countries are seeking to lower worldwide inventories.

U.S. production has increased by nearly 500,000 barrels a day so far in 2017, with current production of about 9.3 million bpd, per U.S. Energy Department figures.

The Maran Canopus supertanker took oil in a ship-to-ship transfer from smaller Aframax vessels on five different occasions, according to data on Thomson Reuters Eikon. It left the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port for Singapore on March 29 at 96 percent filled.

Reporting by Catherine Ngai in New York; Liz Hampton in Houston; Florence Tan in Singapore; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Chizu Nomiyama