China’s 2023 oil refinery output rises to record on fuel demand recovery

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s oil refinery throughput in 2023 rose 9.3% from a year earlier to a record, reversing a rare decline in 2022, as new plants in the world’s second-largest crude consumer bolstered production to meet a post-pandemic recovery in fuel demand.

Refiners processed 734.8 million metric tons of crude oil last year, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed on Wednesday, or about 14.7 million barrels per day (bpd).

That’s up from 13.5 million bpd in 2022 when output slipped for the first time in two decades as Beijing’s tough COVID-19 control measures took a toll on demand.

Throughput in December was up 1.1% from the same month a year earlier to 60.11 million tons, the NBS data showed, or about 14.16 million bpd, easing slightly from the previous month.

Processing volumes consistently recorded year-on-year growth for all the months of last year, with stronger expansions between July and October when China’s domestic fuel demand rebounded as more people travelled by car and air, especially for the summer school holidays and October’s Golden Week break.

State-owned refiners also took advantage of attractive export margins by shipping more refined fuel overseas, in particular aviation fuel and diesel, that allowed them to maintain high production rates.

New plants which opened in late 2022, including PetroChina’s 200,000-bpd crude unit in Guangdong and Shenghong Petrochemical’s 320,000-bpd plant in Jiangsu, ramped up operations through 2023, bolstering national throughput.

Additionally, China’s independent refiners capitalised on discounted sanctioned oil from Iran and Venezuela as well as Russian shipments despite a price cap imposed by the U.S. and its allies to restrict Moscow’s oil revenue.

NBS data also showed that China’s natural gas production rose 5.8% last year to a record 229.7 billion cubic metres (bcm), the seventh year that annual production has risen by more than 10 bcm, as state companies delivered strong growth from top basins in Sichuan in the southwest, Ordos in the north as well as deep sea deposits in the South China Sea.

December production at 20.9 bcm was 2.9% higher than a year earlier, representing an all-time monthly record, as state oil majors stepped up drilling to supply winter heating demand.

Crude oil production last year reached 208.9 million tons, or 4.18 million bpd, up 2% from 2022 but below an all-time high of 4.3 million bpd in 2015. December output at 17.65 million tons was up 4.6% from a year ago.

Productions from offshore fields contributed over 60% of the growth compensating declines at mature onshore reservoirs.

(Reporting by Chen Aizhu in Singapore and Andrew Hayley in Beijing; Editing by Tom Hogue, Christopher Cushing and Christian Schmollinger)