U.S. Base Oil Output Tumbles in May

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Base oil production in the United States regressed in May, falling to its lowest seasonally adjusted level since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Refiners in the country produced 4.1 million barrels of mineral base stocks during the month, 25% less than the previous five Mays, according to data released recently by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

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That represented the largest decrease this year comparing monthly output to five-year averages for the same months. April’s output of 4.5 million barrels was off by 13%, while March (4.5 million barrels) and February (3.7 million barrels) were down by 13% and 20%, respectively.

Finished lubricant production in the U.S. normally ebbs during winter and then peaks during spring as lube marketers gear up for the summer driving season.

Industry insiders said in recent weeks that many companies have anticipated base oil and lubricant demand to begin rebounding from the sharp drop experienced caused by lockdown measures taken to combat the coronavirus. The timelines for those forecasts were being pushed back, however, even before the disease resurged in the United States.

Health experts now worry that parts of the country will need to reimpose containment measures, delaying the economic recovery.

U.S. refiners produced 3.4 million barrels of paraffinic base oil in May, 27% less than the average for that month during the previous five years. Naphthenic base oil output was 721,000 barrels, down 15%. During the past few months, naphthenic base oils had experienced a larger proportional drop than paraffinics.

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