The EU oil and gas sector is facing important changes. First, the current internationl situation has dimished the oil exports to Europe from Russia, which amounted at 25.7% this year; second, other challenges like the transition to renewable energy sources and the increasing phase off of internal combustion engines to EV models, have dictated that reifineries had to change their traditional business model in favour of a more flexible one using different sources of crude oil in their plants.
However, oil is presently the most widely used energy source, and as Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani once said: “The stone age did not end because the world ran out of stones, and the oil age will not end because we run out of oil.”
The increased use of heavy and sour crude types has determined that refineries obtained access to cheaper crudes compared to the light sweet. On the flip side, these plants needed to upgrade their exisitng plants with more complex refining cycles. Complex High Conversion Refineries, such as the SARAS one of the biggest in the Mediterranean with 300,000 b/d capacity, can work a wider variety of crude compared to simple topping refineries, which heavily relies on light sweet oils.
What are the main differences between heavy and light crudes, and what does it means if these are sweet or sour ? Crudes are categorized using two main criteria: density and sulfur content. Density is measured via the API formula which takes into account the specific gravity of each crude. Light crudes usually range between 35-45 API, with the higher the value the lighter the crude. For example, industry standards like the WTI and the Brent have a 39.6° and 38.6° respectyively, whereas crudes with an API of between 35-25 are considered medium light and a heavy crude is in the 15-25 API range. Anything below 15 API would be considered an extra-heavy crude.