Preparing for a Sea Change in Global Refining
The global oil refining industry has been buffeted by many events in recent years.
The global oil refining industry has been buffeted by many events in recent years. These events include China's pursuit of energy self-sufficiency, the crude oil price advantage for US refiners and the popularity of diesel as a replacement for gasoline. However, the implications of these events for refiners are likely to pale in comparison with the effects of the new sulfur regulations adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
Beginning in 2020, the new IMO regulations will reduce the limit of sulfur content in marine fuel from 3.5% to 0.5%. In turn, this decrease in sulfur content will reduce airborne emissions from ships. The new sulfur regulation could change the drivers of profitability in the refining industry for many years.
As we approach 2020, the implementation of the regulations will cause an oversupply of high-sulfur fuel oil (HSFO), which will severely disrupt industry dynamics. This disruption may extend through 2025, or even longer, as most industry players delay making the investments needed to reignite demand for HSFO and normalize prices.