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We're Not Gonna Take It - What Do U.S. Refineries Import from Russia? And What If They Stop?

Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine has posed a dilemma regarding Russian crude oil. Russia is the world’s second-largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia, sending out an average of more than 7 MMb/d last year, or about 7% of global demand. And the world needs more oil — demand for crude has rebounded from its COVID lows, and OPEC+ (of which Russia is part) and U.S. producers alike have been ramping up production only gradually. So the dilemma is, does the U.S. continue importing Russian crude oil to help hold down gasoline, diesel, and heating oil prices, or does the U.S. ban such imports as an additional rebuke to Russia’s actions in Ukraine? In today’s RBN blog, we look at which refiners and refineries have been importing Russian crude oil, heavy gasoil, and resid and what would happen if the U.S. said “Nyet” to Russian imports.

The debate over Russian imports of crude oil and other refinery feedstocks is reaching a fever pitch. The Biden administration, which with U.S. allies has implemented sanctions against Russian banks, Putin, and his billionaire friends, has been reluctant so far to push for a ban on Russian crude oil exports, citing concern about the impact such an action would have on U.S. refined products prices. That stand may not last long. Last week, Senator Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, and Senator Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican and ranking member on the same panel, introduced the proposed Ban Russian Energy Imports Act. The measure quickly garnered support from both sides of the aisle, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat, and Senator Lindsay Graham, the South Carolina Republican, suggesting the kind of bipartisan consensus usually reserved for bills praising Thanksgiving, baseball, or international icons like Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa.

Whether imports of Russian crude oil are banned — or individual companies decide on their own they just don’t want the stuff — we think a look at just how much the U.S. depends on Russia for crude oil and refined products merits a closer look.

For many years, Russia has been a key supplier of crude oil, unfinished intermediate products, and refined products to the world. In 2021, Russia exported a little more than 7 MMb/d of these products, with about 60% going to Europe, 20% to China, and 17% to the OECD Americas. Of that 17%, the U.S. imported 685 Mb/d of crude oil and refined products from Russia last year (multicolored bar to far right in Figure 1), including 199 Mb/d of crude oil (red segment in bar to far right) and 356 Mb/d of “other products” (light-green bar segment) such as topped crude oil, heavy vacuum gasoil (HGO), and fuel oil (see Complex Refining 101). Russia accounted for about 8% of total U.S. crude oil, intermediates (referred to as unfinished oils by the EIA), and refined product imports.

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