April 16, 2019 / 6:21 PM / 2 months ago

U.S. West Coast gasoline imports from Europe set for record April

NEW YORK, April 16 (Reuters) - Gasoline imports into the U.S. West Coast from Europe are set to hit a record in April as area refinery shutdowns have tightened supplies and boosted prices, Refinitiv Eikon ship data showed on Tuesday.

Imports were on track to total 2.17 million barrels in April, most since at least November 2015, the earliest Refinitiv data available. Most of the barrels were coming from the Netherlands. The West Coast has been affected this season by planned and unplanned refinery shutdowns and Midwest floods preventing ethanol from reaching California, which is geographically isolated in terms of pipelines and energy infrastructure.

That amount represents a roughly eightfold increase from the 251,200 barrels sent in April 2018. An additional 31,800 barrels per day (bpd) have already been fixed to sail from Europe to the West Coast in May, according to energy intelligence company Kpler.

Tighter supplies have lifted West Coast fuel prices, encouraging imports. The state’s average was $4.01 a regular gallon as of Tuesday, according to the American Automobile Association, with prices in San Francisco averaging $4.09 a gallon.

California’s gasoline prices are currently the highest in the nation, exceeding Hawaii’s, which tend to be higher because of the difficulty of shipping to islands.

Wholesale prices for April-delivery gasoline that meets California’s rules to reduce air pollution sold in the Los Angeles market on Monday at 50 cents a gallon over May NYMEX gasoline futures, down about 10 cents a gallon from Friday. The RBOB futures contract on NYMEX last traded around $2.01 a gallon.

Valero Energy Corp, Exxon Mobil Corp, BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc chartered four of the eight fixtures, Refinitiv data showed.

In March, Valero began a controlled shutdown of its 145,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) Benicia refinery in California.

Phillips 66 shut a crude unit at its Los Angeles refinery after a fire in March, while BP said its 227,000 bpd Cherry Point, Washington, refinery would shut for planned maintenance until April 13.

The shutdowns have sapped the region’s gasoline inventories, which totaled 29 million barrels in the week ended April 5, lowest seasonally since 2016, U.S. Energy Information Administration data showed.

Inventories are also tight because California refineries just shifted to making summer blend gasoline, which is formulated to reduce smog during warmer weather.

March floods in the Midwest also trapped barrels of ethanol there, causing shortages of the biofuel earlier this month, raising fuel prices out West. (Reporting by Stephanie Kelly in New York and Erwin Seba in Houston; Editing by Richard Chang)

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