A Reliance Industries Ltd petrochemical plant in Jamnagar, India. Reliance’s crude imports from Latin America increased by 14 per cent while reducing the proportion from the Mideast. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Mumbai: Reliance Industries Ltd., owner of the world's largest refining complex, boosted crude imports from Latin America by 78 per cent last year and reduced the proportion from the Middle East, JBC Energy GmbH said.

Reliance, controlled by billionaire Mukesh Ambani, imported about 280,000 barrels a day of oil from Latin America in 2010, the bulk of which came from Venezuela, Vienna-based industry consultant JBC said in a note on Monday.

Total crude oil imports by Reliance rose 14 per cent last year to 1.18 million barrels a day, and 58 per cent came from the Middle East, according to the report. In 2009, 64 per cent of the imports arrived from the Middle East.

Cheaper grade

Reliance is boosting crude imports from Latin America as it seeks higher refining margins by processing heavier and cheaper grades of oil, Richard Gorry, a director at JBC, said December 7.

Three Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs), Aries Star, Patris and Albutain Star, are currently carrying crude from South America and headed to the port of Sikka near Reliance's refineries in western India, according to vessel transmissions captured by AIS Live on Bloomberg.

The VLCCs, each with the capacity to carry about 2 million barrels of crude, are scheduled to reach Sikka in February. One other VLCC, the BW Nysa, may reach the Indian port on February 20 from West Africa, the ship-tracking data show.

Reliance's plants are complex refineries that turn low-quality crude into gasoline and diesel for sale mainly outside of India.

Heavy grades of oil are widely produced in South America, including in Venezuela, Gorry had said.

Reliance's Jamnagar facility in western India has two refineries, a 580,000 barrel-a-day plant completed in December 2008 and an older 660,000 barrel-a-day unit.

They can process a combined 1.24 million barrels a day, or about 1.6 per cent of global refining capacity.

Profit rise

The company's gross refining margin was $9 a barrel in the three months ended December 31, compared with $5.90 a year earlier, Reliance said on January 22.

Pretax profit from refining rose 77 per cent to 24.4 billion rupees in the quarter, the company said.

Oil for March delivery gained as much as $1.53 to $90.87 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.