In a surprising turn of events, Nigeria, long hailed as an oil-producing giant, has found itself importing crude oil from the United States. This shift in dynamics is particularly notable as it involves the Dangote Refinery Lekki, the largest single-train refinery globally, owned by Africa’s wealthiest individual, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, and the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL). The decision to import US crude, specifically West Texas Intermediate (WTI) Midland, unveils a strategic business move rooted in refinery economic pragmatism and market dynamics.
The Dangote Refinery’s choice to import crude oil from the US, particularly WTI Midland, came to light when it acquired 2 million barrels from Trafigura, one of the world’s largest oil traders. This decision raised eyebrows and sparked discussions regarding its financial implications and the underlying reasons driving such a move.
The price of crude oil is a crucial factor in determining the profitability of oil refineries. It directly affects feedstock costs, which constitute a significant portion of refinery expenses. Fluctuations in crude oil prices impact the overall economics of refining operations, influencing profitability alongside fuel costs, operational expenses, and compliance with emissions regulations.
Refineries must carefully analyse crude oil prices and their relationship with market prices for refined products to assess profitability accurately. The “crack spread,” representing the price difference between refined products and crude oil, is a simplified but useful measure for estimating refinery profitability. A higher crack spread indicates greater profitability and encourages refineries to maximise capacity utilisation. Conversely, lower crack spreads may prompt refineries to scale back capacity due to cost considerations.
Cost-effectiveness: The primary catalyst for importing US crude stems from its cost-effectiveness compared to Nigerian premium grades like Bonny Light, Agbami, Qua Iboe, and Brass River. While Nigerian grades are benchmarked against Europe’s North Sea’s Brent, WTI Midland provides a more economically viable option. During the procurement period, WTI Midland was notably more affordable, enabling the Dangote Refinery to realise substantial cost efficiencies.
Amidst various considerations, the significant price differential between Nigerian and US WTI Midland crude emerges as a key factor. Nigerian barrels of similar quality to WTI typically command a premium over Brent. For instance, on Wednesday, February 7, 2024, WTI closed at $73.86, whereas Brent crude closed at $79.29, indicating a $5.43 spread. In contrast, Nigeria’s premium grade, Qua Iboe, traded at $81.14, showcasing a $7.28 difference. It’s noteworthy that all Nigerian crude grades exceeded the $80 mark during this period.
Competitiveness of American Crude
The substantial increase in US crude oil production has led American companies to offer significant discounts on WTI Midland crude in the global market. This enhanced competitiveness further incentivized the Dangote Refinery to opt for US crude over Nigerian grades.
The acquisition of 2 million barrels of US crude by the Dangote Refinery marks a strategic move aimed at optimising its operations and enhancing profitability. This significant procurement underscores the refinery’s commitment to securing cost-effective feedstock for its operations. By opting for US crude, particularly WTI Midland, the refinery not only diversifies its crude oil sources but also capitalises on the favourable pricing dynamics of American crude in the global market. This acquisition aligns with the refinery’s goal of achieving operational efficiency and competitiveness in the oil refining industry.
While transportation costs are a factor in importing crude oil, they are offset by the significant cost differentials between US and Nigerian grades. The Dangote Refinery’s decision to import US crude despite transportation expenses indicates that the economic benefits outweigh these costs.
The absence of Nigerian shipping companies involved in transporting crude oil to the Dangote Refinery underscores the logistical challenges within Nigeria’s shipping industry. The refinery had to rely on international shipping companies, further highlighting the need for infrastructure development in the country’s maritime sector.
The use of large supertankers capable of carrying massive volumes of crude oil offers significant discounts to customers, mitigating transportation costs. However, Nigeria currently lacks the infrastructure to support such vessels, leading to reliance on foreign shipping companies.
The decision of Nigeria’s Dangote Refinery to import US crude, specifically WTI Midland, reflects a strategic business move driven by economic considerations. The cost-effectiveness and competitiveness of American crude, coupled with substantial profit margins, outweigh transportation expenses, making it a financially prudent choice for the refinery. However, the reliance on international shipping companies underscores the need for investment in Nigeria’s maritime infrastructure to enhance its competitiveness in the global oil market.
The United States, despite achieving record-breaking domestic oil production of 13.21 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil in 2023, continues to import Nigerian crude oil due to factors such as unique quality, refinery configurations, logistical constraints, contractual obligations, and market dynamics. This highlights the complexity of global energy markets where diverse factors influence import decisions.
In conclusion, the Dangote Refinery’s decision to import US crude represents a strategic shift in Nigeria’s oil industry, highlighting the importance of economic pragmatism and market dynamics in shaping business decisions within the sector.
Tejuoso is an oil and gas consultant