India's February crude oil imports jump to meet growing demand

A worker holds a nozzle to pump petrol into a vehicle at a fuel station in Mumbai

(Reuters) - India's imports of crude oil in February rose about 8% from a year earlier, government data showed on Wednesday, as fuel demand hit over 2-decade highs in the world's third-biggest oil importer and consumer.

Rising crude demand and a strong Indian economy bodes well for higher refinery runs and imports, in addition to cheaper Russian crude, said Refinitiv analyst Ehsan Ul Haq, adding he expects refiners to boost runs and imports as temperatures rise and people travel more.

Fuel demand in February hit its highest level in at least 24 years, data from the website of the Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell (PPAC) showed this month.

With Indian demand likely to rise further over coming months, crude imports should recover, said UBS analyst Giovanni Staunovo.

On a monthly basis, imports were down 6% to 22.57 million tonnes, PPAC data showed.

The month-on-month drop in imports could also be seasonal, as February imports were lower last year as well, Haq said.

Russia tightened its grip on India's oil market in February, leaving African crude oil imports in India at the lowest level in at least 22 years.

Elsewhere, Indian Oil Corp, the country's top refiner, will reduce its yearly oil purchase from Kuwait by 20% starting in April. To compensate, India's IOC has increased its term crude volume with Iraq's Oil Marketing Company (SOMO) by 20,000 bpd.

Product exports in February rose by 12% month-on-month to 5.06 million tonnes, with diesel accounting for 2.15 million tonnes.

The rise in exports comes despite India planning to extend restrictions on the export of diesel and gasoline after the current fiscal year ends this month to ensure the availability of refined fuels for the domestic market.

(Reporting by Harshit Verma and Rahul Paswan in Bengaluru; Editing by David Gregorio)