Oman’s ambitious goal of building the biggest oil-storage facility in the Middle East is finally progressing, more than seven years after the Gulf sultanate announced the plan.
Oman Tank Terminal Co. has almost finished constructing eight tanks to store crude for a new refinery near the town of Duqm on the Arabian Sea. It’s now pushing ahead with others that could be used by oil companies and traders, according to two people with knowledge of the project. That would increase Duqm’s capacity to at least 25 million barrels, according to OTTCO’s website.
The Ras Markaz Crude Oil Park could provide an alternative for energy traders and exporters eager to avoid the Strait of Hormuz, a choke-point at the mouth of the Gulf that’s seen numerous flareups in recent years, including Iranian seizures of tankers. The Omani facility lies roughly 1,000 kilometres from the waterway. The United Arab Emirates port of Fujairah, the region’s largest hub with 14 million barrels of commercial crude-storage capacity, is less than 100 miles from Hormuz.
“Crude storage that anybody can use outside the Strait of Hormuz, that can go either east or west, is probably a good thing,” said Alan Gelder, vice president for refining, chemicals and oil markets at consultant Wood Mackenzie Ltd. Iraq and Kuwait, a co-investor in the refinery, might see Duqm as an attractive place to park their crude outside the Gulf, he said.
Oil storage shot to prominence in March and April when coronavirus lockdowns caused demand for energy to collapse. Traders and producers struggled to find enough space for their unwanted crude, with many turning tankers into makeshift, floating warehouses to absorb the unprecedented glut.
Terminal operators at Fujairah had to turn down requests for storage in April because they’d run out.
Duqm missed an opportunity to take advantage because its schedule for Ras Markaz slipped, said Robin Mills, founder of Dubai-based consulting firm Qamar Energy.
“Storage economics were very good this year,” he said. Security of shipping in Hormuz is now a bigger concern - several tankers were attacked or seized near the strait in 2019 - but Oman’s weakened finances could deter investors, Mills said.
Leasing the tanks would provide extra revenue for Oman, whose economy has been battered this year by the virus and fall in oil prices. Its budget deficit is forecast to swell to 17% of gross domestic product in 2020, and the government has discussed asking other Gulf states for financial aid.
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