A Russian court order to halt oil loadings from a port in the Black Sea has unnerved European crude traders already reeling from the tightest regional market in years, sending prices for competing barrels spiraling.
On Tuesday, a Russian court ordered a 30-day stoppage of the CPC Terminal, through which more than 30 million barrels of mostly Kazakh crude gets exported each month. It said the halt is because the facility violated its oil-spill prevention plan.
If it comes to pass, the stoppage would be another blow to a European oil market that’s lost large amounts of supply to unrest in Libya, and seen sharply reduced shipments from elsewhere. For now the terminal is running as normal.
Azeri Light oil, popular among European refiners because of its low sulfur levels, jumped to a premium of more than $10 a barrel to benchmark Dated Brent, the highest level several traders were able to remember. Further afield, Nigeria’s Forcados crude was offered at a premium of $14 a barrel.
The CPC stoppage is meant to begin after a bailiff arrives. That hasn’t happened yet, and the terminal operator, Caspian Pipeline Consortium, has asked the higher regional court to delay the order suspending operations, arguing a sudden stop could cause permanent damage.
European refiners are now mostly keeping away from Russia’s Urals crude following the invasion into Ukraine, putting a greater emphasis on other sources of supply.
But Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Libya, the North Sea and West Africa — all major suppliers to Europe — already saw their combined monthly exports decline by a combined 1.04 million barrels a day in June, tanker tracking compiled by Bloomberg show.
Exports from Libya have fallen to about a third of last year’s level amid the worsening political crisis. Should the court order go ahead, it would strip Europe of at least another 1 million barrels a day.
Several oil traders in the region expressed concerns over the possible shutdown, saying spot prices could go up even further because of an urgent need for alternative grades. Some refineries that already bought CPC cargoes for August loading said they were worried whether their shipments will now be delayed.
CPC loadings are planned at about 1.24 million barrels a day in July, slightly less than 1.4 million to 1.5 million barrels a day in the first quarter, mainly due to planned maintenance at Kazakhstan’s giant Kashagan field.
The US and its allies are trying to punish Moscow in the oil market for the country’s invasion of Ukraine, prompting speculation the court order is a politically motivated response that may have less of an impact on supply in practice.
In late March, CPC had to shut two of three moorings for repairs for more than a month due to significant damage caused by bad weather. Last month, the terminal operated from one of three moorings after World War II mines were found nearby.
Despite those setbacks, which also alarmed the market at the time, CPC managed to keep its exports largely in line with pre-planned loading levels.
Physical oil traders aren’t taking any chances though. Dated to Frontline Brent swaps, which reflect the premium of real-world North Sea crude supplies over ICE Brent futures, have surged to a premium of about $5 a barrel.