In 2013-14, IOC, which owns 30 percent of the nation's oil refining capacity, turned 54.65 million tons of crude oil into fuel. Of the crude oil processed, 16.1 percent was heavy and high TAN (total acid number) crude.
Heavy crudes, like the one produced in Latin America, are cheaper than most of the varieties available from the Middle-East as they have high concentration of sulphur and several metals, particularly nickel and vanadium, which require higher grade refineries for processing. Same goes for high acid crudes or high TAN crudes.
"The Corporation sees optimisation of refinery operations as a major strategy for margin protection and enhancement. Since crude oil cost constitutes as high as 95 percent of the input cost, reducing cost of crude oil has been a priority area," IOC said in its latest annual report.
In pursuit of this plan, IOC has been enhancing capabilities of its refineries to process cheaper crude varieties as well as initiated action to provide optimum crude mix to refineries.
"During 2013-14, the Corporation's refineries processed 16.1 percent heavy and high TAN crudes vis-a-vis 11.5 percent in 2012-13. Plans are afoot to raise this proportion to 20 percent by 2015-16, and 30 percent by 2017-18," it said.
To leverage the capability of processing tougher crudes, high sulphur crude has also increased from 44.3 percent in 2009-10 to 53.7 percent (including Mangla crude from Cairn's Rajasthan fields) in the year 2013-14.
With its 15 million tons a year Paradip refinery being commissioned this fiscal, the same will increase to 67 percent.
IOC Chairman B Ashok said improving gross refining margins (GRM) as a means to improve profitability has been one of the biggest challenges for the company.
"For this, we have been enhancing the capabilities of our group refineries to process cheaper grades of crude oil and also maintaining an optimum mix between term and non-term contracts for crude oil purchases for cost benefit," he said.     

In April-June quarter of current fiscal, IOC earned USD 2.25 on turning every barrel of crude oil into fuel. This is compared to Essar Oil's Vadinar refinery reporting a GRM of USD 9.04 and Reliance Industries earning USD 8.70 per barrel GRM.
IOC and its subsidiary company, Chennai Petroleum Corp Ltd, together own and operate 10 of India's 22 refineries with a total refining capacity of 65.7 million tons per annum accounting for 30.54 per cent of country's refining capacity.

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