Russia is the world’s largest exporter of petroleum products – but what exactly are they?

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Douglas Broom, Senior Writer, Formative Content

  • The United States recently banned oil and gas imports from Russia.
  • But Russia is the world’s largest exporter of all oil products.
  • So, what are these products and how are they used?

The United States just banned the import of oil, gas and coal from Russia as part of its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But Russia is the world’s biggest exporter of oil and petroleum products – so what are the implications?

The New York Times reported an immediate surge in US petrol prices in the wake of the import ban. Although Russia only accounts for 3% of US crude oil imports, it supplies 20% of US imports of petroleum products, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
Russia is only the third-largest oil producer after the US and Saudi Arabia, but it is the world’s largest exporter of oil and petroleum products, according to data from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

What are petroleum products?

Russia’s output includes: naphtha, which is used as a solvent; vacuum gas oil which, like naphtha, can be used to increase gasoline (petrol) output from refineries; gas oil, also known as red diesel, which is used in farm machinery; and fuel oil for home and industrial heating boilers.

How much does Russia produce?

The bulk of Russia’s 11.3 billion-barrels-a-day production in January 2022 was crude oil (10 million barrels a day) according to the IEA. Refined oil products accounted for 960,000 barrels and liquid natural gas 340,000 barrels a day.

Although ranked third among oil producing nations, the IEA says that, in terms of all oil products, Russia is the world’s largest exporter to global markets and the second-largest crude oil exporter after Saudi Arabia.

A chart showing Russian crude and oil product exports from Jan 2020-Dec 2021.
Russian crude and oil product exports, Jan 2020-Dec 2021. Image: IEA

IEA figures for December 2021, show Russia’s oil exports were 7.8 million barrels a day, two-thirds of which were crude and condensate – a light crude oil which is a byproduct of gas extraction.

Russia’s exports of petroleum products for this period totalled 2.85 million barrels a day, comprising 1.1 million barrels of gas oil, 650,000 barrels of fuel oil, half a million barrels a day of naphtha and 280,000 barrels a day of vacuum gas oil.

The remaining 350,000 barrels a day was made up of gasoline, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), jet fuel and petroleum coke, a solid residue from refining which is used in electricity generation and cement kilns.

Collectively, European nations take about two-thirds of Russia’s oil exports while a fifth go to China which is the biggest single buyer of Russian oil and oil products importing 1.6 million barrels a day during 2021, according to the IEA.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

Moving to clean energy is key to combating climate change, yet in the past five years, the energy transition has stagnated.

Energy consumption and production contribute to two-thirds of global emissions, and 81% of the global energy system is still based on fossil fuels, the same percentage as 30 years ago. Plus, improvements in the energy intensity of the global economy (the amount of energy used per unit of economic activity) are slowing. In 2018 energy intensity improved by 1.2%, the slowest rate since 2010.

Effective policies, private-sector action and public-private cooperation are needed to create a more inclusive, sustainable, affordable and secure global energy system.

Benchmarking progress is essential to a successful transition. The World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, which ranks 115 economies on how well they balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability, shows that the biggest challenge facing energy transition is the lack of readiness among the world’s largest emitters, including US, China, India and Russia. The 10 countries that score the highest in terms of readiness account for only 2.6% of global annual emissions.

To future-proof the global energy system, the Forum’s Shaping the Future of Energy and Materials Platform is working on initiatives including, Systemic Efficiency, Innovation and Clean Energy and the Global Battery Alliance to encourage and enable innovative energy investments, technologies and solutions.

Additionally, the Mission Possible Platform (MPP) is working to assemble public and private partners to further the industry transition to set heavy industry and mobility sectors on the pathway towards net-zero emissions. MPP is an initiative created by the World Economic Forum and the Energy Transitions Commission.

Is your organisation interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

Roughly 750,000 barrels a day of crude oil is delivered to Europe through Russia’s Druzhba pipeline system, a third of which is transported through the system’s southern branch which passes through Ukraine.

Among its neighbours, IEA describes Russia as a “significant supplier” of crude oil to Belarus, Bulgaria and Romania and of petroleum products to most of the nations of the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine.

The 2021 Edition of the World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, which tracks the progress of 115 nations in moving away from fossil fuels, said urgent action was needed to accelerate the transition to clean, sustainable energy sources.

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