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ExploringtheAsianPremiuminCrudeOilMarkets

ExploringtheAsianPremiuminCrudeOil
Markets
WEDNESDAY,21NOVEMBER201200:00 ADIIMSIROVICANDDR.TILAKDOSHI

TheissueofchallengestoAsianenergysecurityisexemplifiedbythedebateovertheexistenceofwhatsome
refertoasanAsianPremium.AsiaisfarmoredependentonoilimportsfromtheMiddleEast(ME)thananyother
mayorimportingregionintheworld.In2011,over14millionbarrelsperday(mb/d)orsome57%ofoilimports

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originatedintheME,comparedwith1.9mb/d(17%)fortheUSand2.5mb/d(21%)forEurope(EU).Becauseof
thisdependence,itiswidelybelievedthatAsiancustomershavebeenpayingapremiumforMiddleEastcrudeoil
relative to those in the US and EU. Indeed, a number of studies have consistently identified higher prices for
exportstoAsiarelativetoUSandEUpricesamountingtoabout$1.00to$1.50perbarrelduringthe1990sand
early 2000s.This has led to calls for intervention by some observers of theAsian crude oil market in order to
eliminatethissocalledAsianpremium.Morerecently,ithasbeenarguedthatthepremiumhasbeenreversed
because Asian has emerged as the dominant consuming region for oil from the ME forcing Middle East oil
producerstoreducetheircrudeoilpricesrelativetotheotheroilconsumingregions.
TheAsianPremiumdebate
Several papers by governmentfunded research institutions in the key Northeast Asian crude oil importing
countries such as Japan, South Korea, and China and by US academics have analyzed this issue and have
attemptedtocalculatethesizeandvariationsinthissocalledpremium.
The Institute for Energy Economics Japan (IEEJ) has suggested that crude oil prices forAsia have remained
higherthanthoseofEuropeanandUSmarketsby$1.00$1.50/barrel(bbl)throughoutthe1990s.Inanother
paper by the IEEJ, theAsia crude oil premium to Europe was estimated to have averaged $0.94/bbl over the
periodJanuary1991toJune2002.Morerecently,anarticleintheWallStreetJournal(WSJ)indicatedthatthe
Asiapremiumhasbeenonaverageabout$1.20abarrelsince1988.UtilizingdatafromPetroleumIntelligence
Weeklyfortheperiod19901997,AmericanresearchersfoundthatSaudiFOBpricesforcrudeoildestinedfor
Asianmarketshavebeenonaverage$0.83higherperbarrel(bbl)thanforWesternEuropeand$0.93higher
thanfortheUnitedStates.Inanotherpaper,theauthorscalculatedtheAsiaEuropedifferentialforSaudiArab
LightFOBsalestoaverage$0.90/bblover19882002,increasingto$1.48/bblover19972002.Inanother
careful study, covering the period January 1992 November 1996, theAsiadestined loadings for SaudiArab
Light(AL)realizedpriceswerefoundtobeonaverage$1.00$1.20/bblhigherthanforEuropeanloadings.All
these estimates from the cited sources are broadly consistent, with the Asian premium being in the range of
$1.00$1.50/bbloverthe1990sandtheearlypartofthe2000s.

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TheimplicationsofthesehigherpricesforAsiaareobvious.TheIEEJestimatesthattheAsiapremiumimposes
onJapananadditionalburdenof$48billionannually.Furthermore,itisclaimedthathighercrudeoilpricesalso
leadtohigherpricesforotherenergycommoditiessuchasLNGandcoal,whicharetypicallylinkedtooilprices.
Similarly,theKoreaEnergyEconomicsInstitute(KEEI)pointsoutthatthefinancialburdenofextracostsadversely
affectseconomicandindustrialactivityandleadstothedeteriorationofthecompetitivenessofAsianeconomies.
ItsestimateoftheburdenplacedbytheAsiapremiumontheKoreaneconomyis$800900milliondollarsayear.
Evolutionofoilpricingmechanisms
In1973theOrganizationofthePetroleumExportingCountries(OPEC)inheritedfromthemajoroilcompaniesa
pricingregimewhicheffectivelyadministeredthepriceofoilbyfiat.Inthepre1974period,theysimplyposteda
fixedpriceforcrudeoil.Thispricewasusedtocomputeroyaltiesandtheincometaxpaidtoproducingcountries.
WhenOPECcountriesnationalizedtheirupstreamhydrocarbonassets,theadministeredpriceeffectivelywasthe
priceatwhichoilwassoldandboughtinarmslengthtransactionsfromtheexportingcountries.
Theadministered,fixedpricesystemcollapsedin1985.Intheyearsleadingto1985,therewasdisarrayinthe
OPECranksoverpricingpolicyanditsfundamentallongtermpricingstrategy.Thiswasparticularlyobviousinthe
1980conferenceinAlgiers.OPECofficialpriceswerefallingoutoflinewithcompetingfreelytradedcrudesin
Atlantic Basin spot markets.The problem arose from the difficulty encountered by OPEC in defending a given
priceinthefaceofstrongcompetitionfromemerging,andrapidlygrowing,nonOPECsources.Increasingnon
OPECsupplies,atatimeofstagnantworlddemand,resultedintheemergenceofconsiderablesurpluscapacity
withintheOPECregion.ThisinducedintraOPECcompetitionwhichmeantpricediscountingbyseveralOPEC
membercountriestoprotecttheirexportvolumes.Byadheringtothesystemofofficialprices,whichmostofOPEC
wasabandoning,SaudiArabiawasforcedtoreduceoutputandtakeontheroleofswingproducer.TheKingdom
sufferedacontinuousdeclineinthevolumeoftheirexports,fromabout10millionbarrelsaday(m/bd)tojust
under 3 m/bd between 1980 and 1986. In the end, due to huge losses in export revenue, Saudi Arabia
abandoned the system. The OPEC administered price system, which had been in operation since 1974,
collapsed.

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Forarelativelyshortbutdramaticperiodin1986,netbackpricingreplacedadministeredprices.Undernetback
arrangements,thepriceofcrudeoilwasreferencedtothevalueofrefinedpetroleumproductsderivedfromthe
givencrude.Ineffect,netbacksguaranteedarefinerymarginwhich,inperiodsofexcessrefiningcapacitythat
prevailed at the time, resulted in falling product prices. This, in turn, led to a collapse of crude oil prices. The
effectswerecatastrophicforcrudeoilexporters.Atonepointoilprices,whichwerepreviouslyinthe$2426per
barrel(bbl)range,fellto$810/bbl.
The ensuing price recovery followed an OPEC meeting in November 1986. This meeting was significant as it
changed the overall strategy from charging official administered prices to managing OPEC supply through the
quotasysteminordertostabilizethepricearoundatargetlevelof$18/bbl.Giventhatneithertheadministered
OPEC prices nor netback prices were acceptable any longer, a system of marketrelated formulae prices was
gradually adopted. It involved setting official monthly discounts (or premiums) relative to the other marker or
referencegradessuchasBrentorWestTexasIntermediate(WTI).
SaudiAramcospricingmechanism
SaudiAramcospricingsystemislooselytrackedbymostexportersintheMiddleEast.Theotherlargeproducers
suchasKuwait,Iran,QatarandAbuDhabialsouseasimilarsystemandaregenerallyseenbythemarketas
followersintermsofdirectionandthemagnitudeofthechangesintheSaudidifferentials(sometimesreferredto
asoffsets).SaudiAramcossalestointernationalbuyersaremadeunderlongtermcontracts,usuallyevergreen
contractsrenewableannually.Thepricingformulagenerallyhasfourcomponents:pointofsale,amarketrelated
baseprice,anadjustmentfactorthatisreflectiveofcrudeoilqualityandthepointofsale,andatimingmechanism
thatstipulateswhenthevalueoftheformulaistobecalculated.Thebasepriceiscalculatedbytakingthedaily
average of market prices of a particular widelytraded reference crude oil. The FOB price for European
destinationsistiedtoBrentWeightedAverage(BWAVE)pricepublisheddailyforBrentcrudeoilfortheperiodof
10daysaroundthedeliveryofthecargo,about40daysafterloadingattheSaudiportofRasTanura.FortheUS,
theFOBpriceislinkedtoWestTexasIntermediate(WTI)crudeoilforthe10daysaroundthedeliveryofthecargo
about50daysafterloadingatthesameport.ForbuyersinAsia,crudeoilpricesarelinkedtotheaveragespot
pricesofOmanandDubaicrudeoilsasassessedbyPlattsduringthemonthinwhichthecrudeisloadedatRas
Tanura for delivery to theAsian market. The base price is then adjusted by adding or subtracting an offset or
adjustmentfactorasdeterminedbyAramco,onamonthlybasis,priortothemonthofloading.Thisadjustment
factortakesintoaccountthepointofsale(toadjustforthefreightcosts)andthequalitydifferentialbetweenthe
Saudicrudeandthereferencecrudeforeachparticularimportingregionseparately.Thequalitydifferentialis
essentiallythedifferencebetweenthegrossproductworth(GPW)oftheSaudicrudeandthereferencecrude.
GPW is calculated by multiplying the refined product yield of each barrel under a given refinery process
configurationwiththepriceoftheresultingrefinedproductsinthespotmarket.
Theofficialsellingprice(OSP)foranyparticularMiddleEastexportcrudeoilissimplythesumofthereference
crudepriceandtheannouncedmonthlyoffsetforgivenregionaldestinations,asexplainedabove.ForAtlantic
markets,thereferencecrudesWTI(AramcoswitchedovertotheArgusSourCrudeIndexorASCIforitscrudeoil
salesintheUSinJanuary2010)alongwithotherreferencecrudessuchasBWAVEaretradedinhighlyliquid
marketswithpricessetcompetitively,bothinphysicalbarreltradesaswellasintheorganizedfuturesmarketsof
New York and London. In contrast, Asia has no well established formal futures markets for crude oil. In the
absenceofanestablishedcrudeoilfuturesmarket,theDubaicrudeforwardmarketwassuccessfullydeveloped
in the 1980s. Dubai crude production went into decline in the early 1990s there was a corresponding fall in
liquidityinoutrightdealsthatprovidedabsolutepricesignals.Asaresult,theDubaimarketnolongerservedas
an indicator of absolute prices, and instead became a relative price market where its price was set relative to
Brent,andrelativetothetimestructureofDubaiprices.ThemarketsforBrentDubaispreadsandDubaiinter
monthspreadsarewellestablished,andPlattsassessedOmanDubaiUpperZakumpricesbecamethebasisfor
pricingMiddleEastcrudeexportsontermcontractstoAsia.
TherehasbeenextensivediscussionintheoilindustryregardingtheproblemswiththePlattsOmanDubaiprice
quotation.However,theworldslargestflowofcrudeoilthatis,theflowfromtheMiddleEasttoAsiaamounting
to some 15 mb/d remains largely priced on the basis of this agencys assessments. The price assessment,
based on the Platts partials assessment methodology and which allows delivery of Oman and Upper Zakum
crudeoilsinlieuofDubai,remainsthereferencequotationforMiddleEasttermcontracts.

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The Dubai Mercantile Exchange (DME) launched its Oman futures contract in June 2007, and since then the
exchangeachievedarecordtradedvolumeof141,129contracts.However,itsaveragedailyvolumesforamain
tradingmonthofdeliveryaretypicallybelow3,000lots(threemillionbarrels)paleincomparisontosome150,000
lots (one hundred and fifty million barrels) normally traded in the front month Brent contract for example. Its
emergenceasaviableinstrumentforestablishingareferencepriceforMiddleEastcrudeoilexportstoAsiaisstill
uncertain. To date, the Saudi, Kuwaiti, Iranian and other Middle East OSPs for Asiadestined crude oil sales
remainbasedonPlattsassessments.
Regionalpricedifferentials20072009
ThefocusofthisanalysisisonthebiggestplayerintheMiddleEast,namelySaudiArabiaanditsnationaloil
companySaudiAramco.WeestimatethedifferentialsinArabLight(AL)officialsellingprices(OSPs)whichare
loaded on FOB terms at Ras Tanura port and destined for three major regions United States (US), Western
Europe(WE),andtheFarEast(FE)fortheperiodoverJanuary2007toDecember2009.Forallthreeregions,we
usedthedailypricedataforthe2007,2008,and2009(In2010,SaudiAramcochangedthemethodologyforthe
USandstartedusingArgusSourCrudeIndexorASCIsoweexcludeddatafromJanuary2010exceptwhenused

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topricecrudeloadedattheendof2009).Wechosetwodifferentdatesfortheloadingorbilloflading(B/L)day.
Theloadingdaychosenfirstwasmiddleofeachmonth(15th).Thenweassumedthattheoiltobedeliveredtoall
threemarketswasloadedonthisverysamedate,clearlytocomparethepricesofthesamebarrelsforthethree
differentregionsonthesametemporalbasis.Onceweworkedoutthetimeseriesandobtainedresults,wechose

Books

another,arbitrarydate(5thdayofeachmonthofloading)andcalculatedanothersetofprices.Thiswasdoneto

Go

energysecurity

testforsensitivityofourresultstothechoiceofB/Ldate.
Itisworthexaminingthegeneraltrendsinthepriceofoilovertheperiodunderconsideration.

Figure1:OSPsbyMajorRegions

EnergyandSecurity:
StrategiesforaWorl
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$15.75

(190)

MythsoftheOilBoom:
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Source:AuthorsbasedonPlattsdata

Three distinctive trends are immediately noticeable: One uptrend from January 2007 to July 2008 prior to the
financial crises reaching almost $140/bbl on a monthly average basis secondly, the collapse of prices from
$140/bbl to below $40/bbl following the financial crises which began in the third quarter of 2008 thirdly, a
recovery and uptrend from the end of 2008 and early 2009. The table below summarizes our results for
Asia/EuropedifferentialsfortwodifferentassumedB/LdatesandcomparesthemwiththePetroleumIntelligence
Weekly(PIW)estimates.
Table1:AsiaEuropeFOBPriceDifferentialsforArabLight

Year B/L(5th) B/L(15th) PIW


2007 2.24

3.57

2.00

2008 4.59

5.06

7.00

2009 0,04

0.91

0,50

Source:Authors'Calculations

The price differentials betweenAsia and Europe, as can be seen, are large and highly volatile. In 2007,Asia
experiencedalargediscountrelativetoEuroperangingfrom$2.00/bblto$3.57/bbl.In2008,Asiaexperienceda
verylargepremiumtoEurope,rangingfrom$4.59/bblto$7.00/bbl.In2009,thepremiumreversedagain,and
ArabLightsoldtoAsianbuyerswasatadiscounttoEuroperangingfrom$0.04/bblto$0.50/bbl.Overthethree
yearsstudied,Asiapaidasmallpremiumof$0.19relativetoEurope.

Figure2:AsiaUSALFOBPriceDifferential

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Source:Authors'Calculations

ThefigureaboveshowsthattheOSPdifferentialbetweenAsiaandUSforArabLight(AL)rangesfromanegative
$20/bbltoover$30/bblover20072009.In2007,weestimatethatAsiapaidonaverage$2.00/bbllessforitsFOB
purchasesofALcrudewhileitpaidabout$4.70/bblmorein2008(whenthedifferentialspikesstartinginMarch
2008)and$1.90/bbllessin2009.

Figure3:AsiaEuropeALFOBDifferential

Source:Authors'Calculations

Similarly, this figure shows that the OSP differential for FOBAL betweenAsia and Europe also ranges from a
negative($15/bbl)toapositive($25/bbl)number.Onaverage,Asiapaid$2.24/bbllessin2007,$4.60/bblmorein
2008,and$0.04/bbllessin2009.ThereforeakintotheAsiaUSdifferential,annualaveragesforOSPdifferentials
betweenAsiaandEuropearealsovolatile.
WemeasuredtheFOBdifferentialsforALsoldinthethreemarketsutilizingadifferentarbitraryloadingdate.The
arbitraryloadingdatechosenforallthreemarketswasthe5thofeachmonth.Thisadvancedthepricingforcrude
destinedtobothEuropeandtheUSby10days(fromthe15thtothe5thoftheconsecutivemonth).Notethat
Asianpricingalwaysremainsthesamewithregardstotheloadingdate,forAsiansalesthepricingperiodisthe
averageofthemonthofloadingirrespectiveoftheactualB/Ldateinthemonth.

Figure4belowgivesaplotofthechangeinAsiaoffsetsalongwithaplotofthechangeintheAsiaOSP.During
20072009thechangeinAsianoffsetswasinsignificantcomparedtochangeAsiaOfficialSellingPrices(OSPs).
WecanseethatthemagnitudeofthechangeinAsianoffsetsisverysmallcomparedwiththemagnitudeofthe
changeinAsianOSPs.

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Figure4:ChangeinthepriceoftheAsiaOSPsandtheAsiaoffsets($/bbl)

Source:Platts

Ascanbeseeninthefigureabove,AsianALOSPsgotoadiscountofbetween$10$20/bbltoEuropeanAL
OSPsinMarchMay2008asBWAVEtrendsupsharplyfrom$90/bblto$140/bbl.WhenBWAVEtrendsupward,
pricingona10dayaverageforwardwillbehigherthantheOman/Dubaiaveragemonthlypriceforthemonthof
loadingforAsiansales,i.e.inarisingmarketforBWAVEreferencecrude,oneexpectscrudeoilarrivinginEurope
some40daysafterloadingatRasTanuratobepricedhigherthanthatloadedfortheFarEastwhichispricedon
the average of the month of loading at Ras Tanura. When BWAVE falls off steeply from the $140/bbl peak to
around $40 beginning around June/July 2008, we see theAsian OSP quickly becoming a premium over the
EuropeanOSPofupto$20/bbl(aroundJulytoSeptember2008).AsimilarrelationshipofAsianOSPtoUSOSP
holdsasshowninFig5.Inshort,whetherAsiancustomerswerepayingapremiumorenjoyingdiscountsoverthe
past 3 years, relative to their counterparts in the Pacific Basin, seems to be determined by whether absolute
referencecrudepricesintheUSorEuropeanmarketswereonanupwardordowntrendtrend.

Figure5:AsiaUSALFOBDifferentialandWTI

Source:Platts

While SaudiAramco aspires to be a major and preferred long term supplier of crude oil to each of the major
consuming regions of North America, Europe and Far East, nevertheless its exports to Asia have grown
significantlyovertimeasaproportionoftotalcrudeexportsover19952008,fromlessthan50%toover60%
today.Thisisnotunexpected,givengrowinginvestmentsbytheexportingcountriesintheregionandbythefact
thatAsiasimplyconstitutesanaturalmarketforMiddleEastoilbothgeographicallyandlogistically.
TherehavebeenimportantdevelopmentsthathaveexpandedthecrudeoildietformanyAsiancustomerslike
introducing newer crude oil grades from nontraditional sources. With the advent of the financial crises in the
developedworldandrecentincreasesinthesupplyofoilintheUS,therehasbeenafurthershiftininternational
oilflows.WiththeendofthewarinLibyaandtheincreaseinoilproductionintheUS,sweet,NorthandWest
AfricancrudeoilwhichusedtoflowtotheEastCoastoftheUSandtheUSGulfisnowlookingforcustomersin
stillgrowingAsia.RussianexportsofEasternSiberiaPacificOcean(ESPO)crudeoiltoAsiaisabouttogeta
major boost with gradual increases in pipeline capacity and output. Even some Canadian crude oil has been
makingitswaytotheregion(Earlyin2012,theChineseNOCChinaOilboughtacargoofCanadianSynthetic
crudefortestprocessingintheirrecentlyacquiredSPCrefineryinSingapore).Allofthesechangesareexpected
influencethedynamicsofcrudeoilpricesinAsia.However,asoveralldemandcontinuestogrow,theMiddleEast
islikelytoremainthemostimportantsinglesourceofcrudeoilforAsia.

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Conclusion
Since 1986, official Saudi prices are set only in relation to the freely traded reference or marker crude prices
(Brent,WTI,OmanandDubai).Themonthlyadjustmentsofthesedifferentialsareusuallyrelativelysmall.They
generallychangebylessthan2%oftheabsoluteprice,whiletheimpliedvolatilityintheabsolutepricelevelsis
usuallyabout30%.Hence,theyarefartoosmallinrelationtotheabsolutepricechangestobeusedasatoolfor
price discrimination between various consuming regions. What's more, our results have shown that the Asian
premiumduringtheperiodofourstudy(20072010)switchedfromanactualdiscountin2007,toaverylarge
premiumin2008,followedbyafallintoadiscountagain,during2009.Weshowthatthesechangescanlargely
beexplainedbythestructureofoilprices.Allthreecrudeoilmarkersshowaclearupwardtrendduring2007,
followed by a steep and persistent drop during the financial crises beginning in the summer of 2008 and the
recoveryattheendofthatyearandaslowuptrendthroughout2009.DuetodeferredpricingintheofficialSaudi
formula, the US and EU simply paid higher premiums in the rising market and received discounts in falling
markets,relativetoAsianmarkets.Therefore,duringthisperiod,wedonotfindanyevidenceofregionalprice
discriminationbyAramco(ThisassertionisquitedifferentfromtheargumentthatOPECasagroupsetsglobal
crudeoilpricesbyimposingproductionquotasonitsmembers.ThisOPECascartelargumentisnotthesubject
ofthispaper).

ThisconclusionfitswellwithwhatobserversknowabouttheoverallSaudiexportingstrategy.SaudiArabiaisa
producer with vast oil reserves, and its strategic interest is in maintaining a significant market share in all the
consumingregionsandindoingsoitmaybeperusingotherpoliticalandeconomicobjectives.However,further
workisnecessarytotestwhethertheoilpricestructurecanexplaintheAsianPremiumafter2010.

ContributorAdiImsiroviciswiththePetracoOilCo.LtdinSingapore.ThecontributionwascowrittenbyDr.Tilak
Doshi.

Copyright2016JournalofEnergySecurity.AllRightsReserved.IAGS.

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