China may be producing less oil, but it is refining more, fresh statistical data from Beijing has revealed, suggesting that Asia’s biggest oil consumer will continue with its international upstream push and imports will continue to increase as domestic demand expands.
Last year, crude oil production in China fell by an annual 4 percent to 191.51 million tons — or about 3.85 million bpd — to the lowest in nine years on the back of maturing fields and few viable new discoveries at home. This was largely offset by imports, which continued to rise, booking a 10.1-percent annual jump to 8.43 million bpd. In November, these hit a record-high of over 9 million bpd.
Analysts interviewed by Bloomberg expect the decline in local oil production to continue in the near term, but China’s maturing fields will not be the only or even main reason: China is shifting to natural gas. In December, gas imports hit an all-time high, as the country fought a cold spell amid efforts to reduce its dependence on coal and replace it with gas. At 7.89 million tons—including pipeline flows and LNG shipments—the December figure beat the previous record, booked in November, by 20 percent.
Local gas production is also on the rise as Beijing fights pollution, at 147.4 billion cu m last year — yet another record that China broke last year.
So, if the country is firmly moving in the direction of natural gas and away from oil in terms of hydrocarbons production, this means it will come to rely even more heavily on imported crude because households and factories may get heat and electricity from gas, but cars overwhelmingly drive on gasoline, and petrochemicals production is set for further growth.