India has a back-up plan to cope with a halt to crude supplies from Iran, its oil minister said, as the Islamic republic upped the ante in an oil payments row and Indian refiners rushed to secure alternative supplies, including from Saudi Arabia.
Since December, India and Iran have struggled to find ways for New Delhi to pay for imports of 400,000 barrels per day or 12 percent of its oil demand after the Reserve Bank of India halted a clearing mechanism under US pressure.
Praise from Washington
That move won praise from Washington, which is using sanctions in a bid to get Tehran to halt its nuclear programme.
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Indian firms Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd, Iran's biggest Indian client, BPCL, IOC, HPCL and Essar buy crude from the Islamic Republic, and their collective debt to Iran since the crisis broke out has risen to more than $5 billion (Dh18 billion).
None of the five refiners have received a crude supply plan from Iran for August loading cargoes, officials and executives at the companies said on condition of anonymity.
But Indian Oil Minister S. Jaipal Reddy said no oil shortages would result from Iran's halting supplies in August.
"No. There will not be any shortage or problem. We have a back-up plan," Reddy told Reuters when asked if Asia's third-largest oil consumer would face problems now that Tehran has decided against supplying oil in August.
Iran has told BPCL, HPCL and Essar that they will receive no supply in August, said a source at Saudi Aramco, which has been approached by these companies for extra volumes.
IOC and MRPL have so far not asked for additional Saudi oil.
MRPL is still hopeful it will get a late allocation from Iran, a company source said.
"BPCL, HPCL and Essar have told us that they have not received allocation [from Iran for August]. They did not get a response from Iran and they want to secure supplies," said an executive with Saudi Aramco, who declined to be named.
Tehran had previously tolerated unpaid shipments as the price it had to pay to defend its crude market share.
Tehran has already given an August crude supply plan to refiners in China, two Chinese buyers of Iranian crude said. Iran has so far not offered them additional August volumes.
US Treasury officials are working with India to end the impasse, and a solution is in sight, a US official said on Wednesday as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited India.
But Indian firms can ill afford drawn-out uncertainty over supplies, analysts said. "They have to resolve it. If not this month, at least in the next month," Sushant Gupta of consultant Wood Mackenzie said.
"I don't think that the availability of crude is an issue. There will be alternatives from the Middle East and West Africa. They have the flexibility to reschedule crude cargoes and have some inventories as well."