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Fuel crisis spurs gas importing
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China turned to buying gasoline for the first time last month after record crude oil costs forced refineries to cut back processing and with a peak consumption season approaching.

Analysts said the deficit could remain until after the Olympic Games, as China has had to build stockpiles for the August event.

May's gasoline imports reached 338,572 tons, the highest in at least 29 months and compared with zero imports a year earlier, Customs data showed yesterday. Exports were 160,000 tons, down about two-thirds from a year earlier.

This came as state-owned oil majors Sinopec and China National Petroleum Corp boosted imports of transport fuels to keep the nation supplied after refiners cut back processing volumes to avoid increasing losses because they have to sell products under government capped prices.

Crude processing was down 1.1 percent to 27.78 million tons in May, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. The fall, due partly to the year-ago high, marked the first drop in refinery runs in five years.

Yao Daming, director of the oil product department with the Guangdong Oil and Gas Association, said China could remain a net gasoline importer in the run-up to the Olympics. China was a major gasoline exporter in Asia before this year.

Beijing Jcache Energy Information Services said that for June, Sinopec and CNPC may import 600,000 tons of gasoline and 1 million tons of diesel, pushing the nation's importing volume to a new high.

China has diverted fuel to Sichuan after the May 12 devastating earthquake to supply diesel, for example, to trucks and power plants. This reduced supplies in other regions and boosted imports.

Diesel imports were up 35 percent to 700,000 tons in May, the Customs said. Exports were 40,000 tons, down a third from April.

(Shanghai Daily June 17, 2008)

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