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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: The surging prices of natural gas are threatening to eat up the profit some oil refiners are making on their fuels, forcing them to cut processing rates and even altering normal crude-buying patterns, Bloomberg reported.
Natural gas — specifically methane — is central to making the hydrogen that oil refineries rely on for diesel-producing machines called hydrocrackers and hydrotreaters, which help to eliminate sulfur.
The cost of processing more sulfurous crudes has risen by $6, a ten times increase compared to two years ago, due to surging natural gas prices, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
European refineries make hydrogen by steam reforming of methane, and the price of methane is unbelievable, according to Callum Macpherson, head of commodities at Investec Plc.
This will make some refinery operations unprofitable, the IEA, an adviser to oil-consuming nations, said. Making hydrogen is a very energy-intensive process.
Knowing exactly how overall margins — or the decisions that refineries take on crude selection — will be affected is not easy, according to IEA. The proportion of refineries that have secured their gas through long-term contracts, avoiding them from being exposed to spot prices, is unknown, IEA explained.
Higher natural gas prices may reduce oil-processing margins by $3 to $5 a barrel, hurting profits just as the market for fuels is showing clear signs of recovery, Bloomberg reported, citing an official at one oil refinery in the Mediterranean.
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