South Korea plans to boost Iran oil imports, especially condensate

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea plans to boost imports of Iranian oil, especially condensate, this year to meet growing demand after sanctions on the Islamic nation were lifted in January.

A gasoline pump is seen hanging at a petrol station in central Seoul in this April 6, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won

The world’s fifth largest importer of crude is also a big buyer of condensate, a super light oil that can be processed into fuels and petrochemicals. Iran’s return would help ease tight condensate supply in a market dominated by fellow OPEC producer Qatar.

“We will increase oil and natural gas (liquids) imports from Iran, especially Iranian condensate,” South Korea’s trade and energy ministry said on Tuesday.

Iran is exporting 100,000 barrels of oil a day to South Korea, one of its main crude customers, and hopes to double that figure by the end of 2016, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh was quoted as saying on Monday.

The Islamic Republic on Jan. 17 emerged from years of economic isolation as sanctions over its disputed nuclear program were lifted.

That encouraged a tripling of South Korea’s oil imports from Iran in January, but shipments remained far below pre-sanction levels.

South Korea’s trade ministry said the two countries would establish a payment system to facilitate smooth trade of crude and condensate between National Iranian Oil Company and South Korea’s SK Energy [SKENGG.UL] and Hyundai Oilbank [INPTVH.UL]

South Korea’s condensate demand is expected to grow this year as Hyundai Oilbank will start operations at a new splitter.

Hanwha Total Petrochemicals, another South Korean condensate buyer, is considering whether to resume imports from Iran from April, a company spokesman said.

He added that the company would have to see if Iranian condensate fits well at their plant before they sign a term contract.

South Korea also expects to sign a memorandum of understanding with Iran to lease out oil storage in the North Asian country, the South Korean trade ministry said.

Asia’s fourth-largest economy currently operates 9 oil storage facilities, capable of holding 146 million barrels, according to Korea National Oil Corp’s website.

Reporting by Rebecca Jang; Additional reporting by Florence Tan in SINGAPORE; Editing by Joseph Radford