HOUSTON (Reuters) – Global prices for diesel and marine fuels should rise by October ahead of a January switchover to new, very low-sulfur marine fuels, and remain higher for at least a year as refiners shift production to make more of the new fuels, analysts said.
Marine fuels containing no more than 0.5% sulfur by weight, down from the 3.5% currently used, to power ocean-going vessels will be required for ships without exhaust scrubbers on Jan. 1, under the International Maritime Organization (IMO) 2020 standard.
In addition to the 0.5%-sulfur fuel, called Very Low Sulfur Fuel Oil (VLSFO), shippers can use marine gas oil with a sulfur content of 0.1% to replace marine fuel containing 3.5% sulfur, called High Sulfur Fuel Oil (HSFO).
Some analysts expect a sizeable price jump as ocean shippers and fuel sellers begin stocking up, but warn existing refining capacity could fall short. Demand for bunker fuel was 3.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2018.
“The industry is not ready,” said Kurt Barrow, an IHS Markit consultancy vice president, who forecasts a “sizeable” price increase for diesel.
“You’re not going to build enough new refining equipment nor add enough scrubbers” to meet initial requirements for VLSFO, he said.
The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said in report in March that shift in petroleum product pricing may begin as early as mid-to-late 2019, with the effects on prices to be most acute in 2020, and then to moderate after that.