Japan’s fuel imports have hit the highest level in more than two decades after series of incidents including an earthquake and a refinery fire curbed production at some of the nation’s processors. Overseas purchases of so-called petroleum spirits — a category that includes gasoline and naphtha — surged to more than 3 million kiloliters in March, the most since August 2000, according to data from Japan’s Ministry of Finance. Imports were also about 19% higher than a month earlier.
The magnitude 7.3 earthquake struck off Fukushima in mid-February, leading to shutdowns at a number of refineries, although some were able to restart in a matter of days. ENEOS Holdings Inc., however, only resumed operations at the sole crude unit at its Sendai refinery in northern Japan last week, while a start-up of its Chiba plant has been delayed to later this month.
Adding to the squeeze on fuel production was the shuttering of the ENEOS-owned Wakayama refinery in western Japan late last month after a fire. The plant remains closed with no scheduled restart date. Japan’s imports of crude oil in March, meanwhile, fell 17% from a year earlier to about 12 million kiloliters, according to ministry data. The nation’s refiners conduct planned maintenance during spring, typically between March and May.