Nearly two months prior to this week's standoff between the central government of Iraq and Kurdistan over a tanker near Texas with $100 million of Kurdish crude, a smaller ship with Kurdish oil discharged its cargo of heavy, sour Shaikan crude in Houston without any legal tangles. A second ship arrived later in May, data show.
The ultimate buyer of those cargoes had remained a mystery - until now.
According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration released on Wednesday, Houston Refining LP, owned by LyondellBasell, imported two cargoes of what was labeled Iraqi crude that match the size of the May shipments and had the distinct quality specifications of Kurdish Shaikan.
The data show two shipments of 266,000 and 267,000 barrels of crude oil, both with 4.6 percent sulfur content, far higher than typical Iraqi imports but in line with the Kurdish Shaikan variety, according to market sources familiar with the oil.
LyondellBasell did not respond to emails and phone messages from Reuters asking if it had contracted to buy Kurdish oil. A spokesman for Blavatnik's global conglomerate Access Industries, which has a stake in Lyondell, did not comment. Blavatnik, a U.S. citizen who was born in Odessa to Russian-speaking parents, is now the world's 33rd richest man after selling his stake in TNK-BP to Russian oil giant Rosneft, according to Forbes.
US State Department said it has no information on who bought the May cargoes.