Strategic fuel stock supply has problems

Foggy picture on fuel supplies…

Ageing refineries and failure to finalise financial planning with National Treasury on levies for strategic fuel stocks held in much-needed fuel storage facilities, are part of the problem faced by planners in the fuel industry and government, according to recent parliamentary meetings.

A confused picture emerged from a recent portfolio committee on energy during a meeting between Thembisile Majolacommittee and the Department of Energy (DOE) on behalf of the Strategic Fuel Fund (SFF).

Deputy Minister of Energy, Thembisile Majola, was present for the entire meeting as a participant in the debate, following the presentation on the strategic fuel stocks position by both DOE’s Deputy Director-General, Tseliso Maqubela, and Muzi Mkhize, Chief Director, Hydrocarbons Policy, at DOE.

CEO missing

In fact, not only was the outcome of the meeting unclear but occurred as an unscheduled event until the day in question.    It was also advised that that nobody in DOE knew the whereabouts of the SFF’s CEO, whose office had been found locked, whereabouts of the CEO himself unknown. He was suspected of being on the lookout for a new post, an apologetic member of SFF said.

Neither was the chairperson of SFF present or the main elected board, there being only one of six SFF board members at the meeting. The portfolio chairperson, Fikile Majola, confirmed that there had been major misunderstandings with parliamentary invitations but that did not explain the apparent disinterest by the SFF board itself in reporting to Parliament. The presentations were therefore purely by the Ministry and senior officials of the DOE.

Parliamentarians were told by DOE that strategic fuel stocks were defined as both crude oil and refined products and held by government and/or oil companies to cater for catastrophes or severe fuel supply disruptions.

The price of failure

Products to be kept as strategic stock included diesel, petrol, jet fuel and liquid petroleum gas (LPG).   As far back as 2006 it had been estimated that a “no stock” fuel crisis situation could result in a loss to GDP in South Africa of R1bn a day. This fact caused the Deputy Minister to remark that such a situation in 2015 “would make the current Eskom crisis seem like a walk in the park”.

Muzi Mkhize of DOE said strategic stocks would be released only upon declaration of a state of emergency by the Minister of Energy and were like an insurance policy. The SFF was responsible for the procurement, maintenance and management of strategic stocks held by government and oil companies likewise were responsible for the strategic stocks they held according to arrangements with the state.

The cost of storage

With regard to the financing of strategic stocks, a draft policy document was still being debated with National Treasury on the basis of a suggested levy of six cents per litre on petrol, diesel and jet fuel to finance procurement of stocks and the construction of storage facilities for refined products with operational expenses.

Tesliso MaqubelaTseliso Maqubela of DoE said the management by DOE of liquid fuels in the country was split into two divisions, policy and planning under one branch of  DoE and implementation, after approval by Cabinet, as another division. In that sense all members were present at the portfolio committee briefing, Maqubela assured parliamentarians, including Dr. Chris Cooper of Central Energy Fund under whom SFF used to fall and who was particularly acquainted with all issues. Present also was the CFO of SFF and the Chief Operations Officer.

Less in the cupboard

DDG Maqubela explained that it was originally required that South Africa keep 90 days of net imports but on an analysis of the current situation, it was proposed that the country keep a total of 60 days of strategic stocks and oil companies would be obligated to keep 14 days of refined products defined as strategic.

Africa now included

South Africa was a net importer of crude oil and refined petroleum products, he said, and currently over 50% of the country’s imported crude oil was from Middle Eastern countries whilst before it nearly all came from the Middle East. However, the country also now received 12% of its crude oil from Angola and 31% from Nigeria, which had changed the picture particularly as far as lead times and transportation were concerned.

Maqubela said there was no crisis in strategic stocks, “although there were emerging risks”. He reassured members, saying that on a day-to-day basis, he personally interacted with all the companies in the industry and there was certainly no crisis but the country did not have sufficient storage capacity for LPG.  This had to be resolved quickly and this was an immediate problem, he said.

“If the Chevron refinery went down for example, as it recently did, there would be more serious problemschevron tank in supplying the Western Cape with LPG. Therefore there needed to be an alternative for Chevron, which was why the DoE supported the granting of any foreign group such as Burgan Cape with a terminal licences for the construction of an import terminal and who had satisfactory BEE partnerships. The country could not rely on one facility for any products in any one area, he said.

Oil companies to keep refined product

The other issue, Maqubela said, was that the country was experiencing a lot of unplanned refinery shutdowns, primarily because of their age and the country needed a new refinery. The National Development Plan (NDP) stated that by 2017 a decision needed to be taken on refining, he remarked.

When one of the refineries at the coast had a problem, the country ran into “challenges” and one of the proposals which would be made at policy division level was that the strategic stocks policy needed to ensure that oil companies kept enough buffer stock at their own cost. The DoE believed, he said, given recent experiences that the country needed storage facilities to be built in key cities across the country, particularly in places such as Kimberley and East London.

chevron2Generated cash flows were used to maintain the infrastructure of keeping stocks and to fund all SFF’s operational expenditure. In 2014, the entity had generated R197 million from leasing its tanks for crude oil. Excess funds were transferred into cash reserves. The SFF received no allocation from government. In real terms, the R2.6bn revenue generated by the SFF in 1995 was more than ten times higher than the R198m revenue generated in 2015. SFF was a non-profit Section 21 company.

SFF’s operating costs between 2013 and 2015 had therefore been below budget. In the 2014/15 financial year, SFF’s revenue had been around R198m, as stated — a significant increase from the R93m in 2013/14.

In reserve

Mfano Nkutha, Chief Operations Officer, SFF, said SFF had two storage facilities at Saldanha and Milnerton, both in the Western Cape. Saldanha currently had six underground tanks holding 7.5m barrels each. Milnerton had 39 smaller tanks, holding 200 000 barrels above ground. There were no strategic stocks at the facilities. The SFF had an asset base where it accumulated interest on cash reserves and leased out storage space to crude oil trading companies.

Some of the new locations under consideration were Island View (Durban), Richards Bay port, East London, Cape Town port and Jameson-Park precinct. However, the basic matters still remained which were the finalisation of stock level requirements; some sort of agreement on funding and levies with National Treasury and feasibility studies for any proposed storage sites.

Southern African implications

In answer to the many questions from MPs, Maquebela said that in the broader context of energymapafrica&sa supplies, indeed the strategic fuel stocks policy framework had yet to be finalised but “all the time things were constantly changing in the global space and within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. These changes needed to be included in the policy framework”, he said.

“Botswana had been building huge storage tanks since 2010 as well and other private sector investments were in Coega and in Richards Bay. These had changed the scenario for the strategic stock framework.”      The multi-product pipeline had changed much, DDG Maqubela said, and historically disadvantaged South Africans (HDSAs) now operated in the fuel storage and fuel industry space but a policy was needed to look into a more integrated approach.

No one has shut shop.

Answering more questions, he said, “There needed to be a seamless release of stocks when the situation arose”. He commented on media reports and said that no refinery had been closed, and those which were currently not operating were on maintenance shutdowns. Chevron had not been closed — they were on a planned maintenance shutdown, he said, presumably referring to the verbal spat revealed in Parliament between Chevron, Burgan and DOE over the new Burgan terminal.

Every year, DDG Maquebela said, the DoE received a schedule of planned shutdowns from the oil companies, because shutdowns were required by law. The DoE’s role was to ensure that there were no overlapping shutdowns. The problem arose when the refineries did not stick to their schedules because of unforeseen circumstances, primarily those relating to the ageing infrastructure. Another problem which the country needed to explore was that the availability and reliability of rotating maintenance crews.

Overview of supplies

He said Chevron was currently operating at 30% capacity and Shell and BP had been experiencing some difficulties. Engen had recently undergone a planned maintenance shutdown, but it had come back on line satisfactorily, while Sasol Secunda was still dealing with a planned maintenance shutdown. PetroSA was operating at 50% capacity.

PetroSA logoIn answer to MPs questions on what had happened to DOE’s Coega refinery plan, Project Mthombo, Maquebela of DOE ducked the question by saying the NDP indicated that a decision needed to have been taken by 2017.   He added the DoE was not waiting until 2017 to make a decision, however. The building of the Mthombo refinery, which had been stopped, was being “reconfigured but there were some challenges in this regard.”

Priorities order of the day

Deputy Minister Majola said of the delay on the part of National Treasury was the splitting of the Department of Energy from environmental affairs and the fact that “electricity had become the main issue and Eskom’s challenges had taken priority in the energy space.”

She maintained much so many of the “challenges in DOE policy were concentrated under one branch it was therefore not humanly possible to manage all the work.” This was something which was impeding the progress of the DoE regarding policy, she said. There was also a misalignment between those who developed policy and those who implemented policy on a day-to-day basis. The DoE needed time to make a re-assessment of itself.
Other articles in this category or as background
Chevron loses with Nersa on oil storage – ParlyReportSA
Fuel price controlled by seasonal US supply – ParlyReportSA
PetroSA has high hopes with the Chinese – ParlyReportSA
SA aware of over-dependence on Middle East, says DOE – ParlyReportSA

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