December 28, 2017 / 1:31 PM / 21 days ago

Ineos sees Forties oil flows back to normal around new year

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s biggest and most important oil and gas pipeline Forties should resume normal flows around the new year, slightly earlier than previously flagged, its operator Ineos said on Thursday.

Ineos had previously expected the pipeline, which suffered a rare unplanned shutdown because of a crack, to resume normal operations in early January.

The closure since Dec. 11 of the pipeline, which normally pumps about 450,000 barrels per day, and supply disruptions in Libya have helped push oil prices LCOc1 above $67 a barrel, their highest since mid-2015. [O/R]

Forties plays an important role in the global market as it is the biggest of the five North Sea crude streams underpinning Brent, a benchmark used for oil trading in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

The system also carries a third of Britain’s offshore natural gas output.

“All restrictions on the flow of oil and gas from platforms feeding into the pipeline system have been fully lifted. All customers and control rooms have now been informed,” Ineos said in a statement.

“Based on current estimates the company expects to bring the pipeline and Kinneil (oil plant) progressively back to normal rates around new year,” it added.

Ineos was forced to declare force majeure on deliveries of Forties crude oil, natural gas and condensate, suspending its contractual obligations to customers by citing circumstances beyond its control.

This is believed to be the first force majeure on a major North Sea production stream in decades.

On Thursday, traders said force majeure was still in place and no indication had been given as to when it might be lifted.

In a sign of normality returning, an export schedule of Forties crude oil cargoes in February was sent out to cargo owners on Wednesday, although the number of shipments is much lower than normal.

Just six Forties cargoes of 600,000 barrels each are listed in February’s export schedule, down from 20 originally planned in January, trade sources said on Wednesday.

    The first cargo in February’s programme loads on Feb. 19, one of the sources said. The February schedule is short because of the need to load shipments delayed by the pipeline shutdown, this source added.

    The last tanker to load crude at the Forties export terminal called Hound Point was the Almi Voyager on Dec. 12.

    It was not immediately clear which vessel would be first in line to load crude, though the Gene tanker, capable of carrying 2 million barrels, has been parked near the port since Dec. 17, according to Reuters ship tracking.

    BP (BP.L) said it was restarting North Sea production at the Bruce platform and ETAP system, though the Andrew field remained shut for maintenance.

    On Wednesday, Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) said it had restarted fields that link up the Forties pipeline.

    Ineos, a privately-owned chemicals company based in Switzerland, bought the pipeline system from BP in late October.

    Reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov and Julia Payne; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Mark Potter

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