Almost half of Australia’s petrol, diesel and jet fuel imports come from South Korea and Japan

As the world wonders what comes next in the North Korean missile crisis we need to have a look what a military confrontation would mean for Australia. This article from the Sydney Morning Herald describes some aspects

Here’s one take on how war in Korea would impact the world economy

but it did not look into Australia’s fuel import vulnerabilities after an even limited attack on refineries in South Korea and Japan. This is important because after 3 refinery closures in Clyde (Sydney), Kurnell (Sydney) and Bulwer (Brisbane), fuel imports from East Asia have replaced previous crude imports coming from a variety of countries outside the Korean conflict zone. When writing this article the latest data from the Australian Petroleum Statistics were from May 2017


Fig 1: Crude imports have dropped by 34% from their peak in 2011

We can see that Australia’s crude imports from neighbouring countries in the Asia-Pacific peaked in December 2007. After a dip during the acute phase of the financial crisis and the following China driven mining boom Asian imports were replaced and even surpassed by imports from far-away places like West-Africa, the Mediterranean and even Former Soviet Union countries. The diversity of supplies was at a maximum. But apparently, the rather small Australian refineries could not afford these imports for long, also because crude production of all IOCs had peaked. It always hits the weakest first and 3 refineries closed. The first one was Clyde:


Fig 2: Chimneys of Shell’s Clyde refinery in Sydney detonated in February 2016

Apart from spectacular videos and images, the media and public took little notice of what was really happening.

I had warned 6 years ago:

Australia’s fuel import vulnerability increases as Sydney’s Clyde refinery is closing

Clyde_terminal_planFig 3:  Shell refinery converted to a fuel import terminal

So let’s have a look where these fuel imports come from. For comparison, the Singapore percentages are also shown.

Australian_diesel_imports_by_country_2004_May2017Fig 4: Last 12 months diesel imports: Singapore (25%), South Korea (20%) and Japan (23%)

Australian_petrol_imports_by_country_2004_May2017Fig 5: Last 12 months petrol imports: Singapore (34%), South Korea (45%), Japan (3%)

Australian_jet_fuel_imports_by_country_2004_May2017Fig 6: last 12 months jet fuel imports: Singapore (21%), South Korea (30%) and Japan (13%)

All together now:

Australia_fuel-import_shares_South-Korea_Japan_2016-17Fig 7: The weighted average is 44%


Fig 8: Petrol sales have gone up again as pump prices dropped

The above graph shows that dramatic events must happen to bring that petrol consumption down.

Conclusion:  The Australian public believes (and the media do not correct this assumption) that most of Australia’s fuel imports come from Singapore. But that is no longer the case after 3 refinery closures. Singapore’s share is now only 26% while South Korea and Japan account for 44%. Needless to say that most of South Korea’s and Japan’s crude imports come from the Middle East and also pass through the South China Sea, 2 more conflict zones. All the while Sydney has started building a new generation of oil dependent infrastructure like road tunnels and a 2nd airport. It seems Australian governments are living in a parallel universe, outside geopolitical context.

Related links:

South Korea’s oil trade under threat

Sydney’s Caltex refinery closed as Chevron’s crude production and sales continue to decline

Why the closure of BP’s Brisbane Bulwer refinery reduces Australia’s energy security

Geelong refinery sold as Shell’s oil production continues to decline

After Sydney’s refinery closure: Caltex to import fuel from Chevron’s shrinking sales