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PetroChina assumes Aramco lease at Statia terminal

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 12 -- PetroChina, eyeing shifts in world trading patterns, has taken over Saudi Aramco’s lease on 5 million bbl of oil storage capacity at the NuStar Energy LP Statia terminal on the Dutch Caribbean island of St. Eustatius.

The facility, which was released after Aramco obtained free oil storage facilities in Okinawa, is a strategically located hub for oil tankers plying the waters between North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean.

It can handle the largest oil tankers, is close to major US refining and transport hubs on the Gulf Coast, and can eventually be used by China as part of a broader oil trading network within the region and beyond.

Analysts said PetroChina’s lease of the facility anticipates the expansion of the Panama Canal now under way, which will allow passage of larger ships carrying greater amounts of oil, LNG, and other commodities.

Overall, Panama is spending $5.25 billion in the first major expansion of the canal since it was opened in 1914. Enlargement of the canal, which currently handles 5% of global trade, is to be completed in 2014.

The enlarged canal will allow passage of tankers capable of carrying 1 million bbl of oil, LNG carriers, and Capesize bulk cargo vessels that transport coal, metals, and other raw materials, taking weeks off transit times and shifting global trade patterns.

Asian countries may find it cheaper to buy oil from traditional US suppliers such as Venezuela as shipping costs come down, and analysts say the amount of crude stored in the Caribbean will likely increase as improved logistics allow traders to take advantage of more arbitrage opportunities.

“With the canal expansion you'll have options to deliver to a lot of places. It opens up arbitrage to the (US) West Coast in a meaningful way and is going to turn the region into a key storage point for both oceans," said one US crude trader.

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