Indian refineries scale back output as virus chokes demand

India’s crude processing in March fell 5.7 per cent from a year earlier, its biggest drop since September, as the coronavirus crisis and travel restrictions to curb its spread dented fuel demand and forced refineries to cut output. Refiners processed about 21.20 million tonnes, or 5.01 million barrels per day (bpd), of oil last month, provisional government data showed on Wednesday.

That was lower than the 5.32 million bpd processed in February and in March 2019. Crude production also declined 5.5 per cent in March from a year earlier to around 2.70 million tonnes or 0.64 million bpd.

Many refineries have curbed output with fuel demand hammered by travel restrictions as the pandemic forced people to stay home and stalled economic activity. India on March 24 announced a three-week lockdown to fight the coronavirus, which has been extended until May 3 as the virus cases continue to increase.

The country has, however, announced a roadmap to restart some industrial activity in locations that are not coronavirus hotspots to try to revive the economy. Indian state retailers sold 50 per cent less refined fuel in the first two weeks of April than the same period a year ago as the lockdown hit transportation and industrial activity, industry sources said last week.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) in its latest report estimated India’s annual fuel consumption – a proxy for oil demand – will decline 5.6 per cent in 2020 to 4.73 million barrels per day (bpd), compared with growth of 2.4 per cent forecast in its March report.

India’s annual fuel demand grew 0.2 per cent in 2019/20, its slowest in over two decades, dragged down by a hefty 17.8 per cent decline in local

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