Europe refiners benefit from U.S. emergency oil stock releases

(Reuters) - At least three vessels carrying crude oil from U.S. emergency stockpiles sailed for Europe in April as refiners there scrambled to replace Russian crude supplies, according to U.S. Customs data, ship tracking, and an industry source.

Releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) since Russia's invasion of Ukraine were designed to counter supply shortages and stem fuel price gains. A release last fall was aimed primarily at pushing down rising U.S gasoline prices.

The Biden administration last month added 180 MM barrels to two smaller releases since November from caverns along the U.S. Gulf Coast. The United States has not prohibited exports of SPR oil and some analysts believe the exports will grow.

U.S. retail gasoline and diesel prices, averaging $4.40 and $5.55 per gallon nationally, have remained near record highs despite the releases. Fuel demand is so strong U.S. refiners' average per share earnings this quarter are projected to run four times the first quarter's profit, according to analyst projections.

Last month, U.S. oil refiner Phillips 66 loaded about 600,000 barrels of crude from the Bryan Mound cavern in Texas onto tanker Sea Holly. It is on its way to Trieste, Italy, U.S. customs data and Refinitiv Eikon showed. Trieste is home to a pipeline that send oil to refineries in central Europe.

Atlantic Trading & Marketing (ATMI), an arm of French oil major TotalEnergies, sent a little over 1 MM barrels of SPR crude to Rotterdam last month.

About 2.25 MM SPR barrels on three vessels were exported to Italy and the Netherlands in April, according to Matt Smith, lead oil analyst for the Americas at data provider Kpler.

ATMI has secured at least 3.5 MM barrels from the SPR, while Phillips has secured at least 10 MM barrels, based on government disclosures. Other companies taking SPR oil include Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Marathon Petroleum and Valero Energy.

Phillips 66 declined to comment on trading activities. ATMI did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

With continued releases of SPR over next several months, "expect to be seeing some of those exported," Kpler's Smith said.

(Reporting by Arathy Somasekhar in Houston and Stephanie Kelly in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)

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