Iranian oil exports rose late last year despite ongoing sanctions from the United States and other countries, amid strong demand from China and Venezuela, according to companies that track Iranian oil shipments.
Iran’s energy sector has been under US sanctions since 2018, when then-President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal over concerns that Iran had violated its terms by using advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium. That led to Iranian oil exports falling to 100,000 barrels per day in 2020 from more than 2.5 million barrels per day in 2018, according to tanker trackers.
President Joe Biden took office in 2021 trying to re-enter the GOP and get more oil into global markets as energy prices have risen in the past two years. However, Iran’s crackdown on anti-regime protesters in recent months, along with the sale of drones and missiles to Russia for use in Ukraine, have stalled those talks.
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Despite ongoing sanctions, Iran’s oil exports last year reached their highest level since 2019, according to several companies that track shipments.
Energy consultant SVB International said Iran’s crude oil exports averaged 1.137 million barrels per day in December, up 42,000 barrels from November and the highest figure for 2022, which SVB reported based on earlier estimates.
“Compared to the Trump administration, there has been no serious crackdown or action against Iran’s oil exports,” says Sara Vakhshuri of SVB. “January exports were as strong as in previous months.”
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Several other energy analyst firms have noted the upward trend in Iran’s oil exports.
Consultant Petro-Logistics, which tracks oil supplies, said it believed Iran’s oil exports in December reached their highest level since March 2019.
Data analyst Kpler said Iran’s oil exports were 1.23 million bpd in November, the most since August 2022, although they fell from 1 million bpd in December.
While Iran’s government does not regularly release data on its oil exports, a draft state budget released by the semi-official Fars News agency showed it was based on shipments of 1.4 million barrels per day.
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China is the largest consumer of Iranian oil exports, many of which are rebranded as crude from other countries as a way to avoid sanctions, according to analysts including FGE.
Energy analysis company Vortexa reported that imports of Iranian oil from China reached a record 1.2 million barrels per day in December, up 130% from last year.
“Most of these shipments have found a home in Shandong, where independent refiners have turned to discounted products since the second half of 2022 amid sluggish domestic demand and shrinking refining margins,” the company said.
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Iran also diversified its oil exports last year, increasing shipments to Venezuela, which is also subject to US sanctions, where light oil supplies can be refined or diluted to produce exportable crude.
Reuters contributed to this report.