South Africa diesel dearth to lift in weeks as refining restarts

A shortage of diesel fuel in South Africa will ease up in a few weeks when about 30% of its refining capacity, idled because of a drop in demand spurred by the Covid-19 lockdown, will return to service.

Sasol and Total SA shut the Natref refinery in April after the government restricted economic activity to curb the spread of coronavirus. The measures also extended a planned shutdown by the Glencore-owned Astron Energy Cape Town refinery.

The plants comprise almost a third of the country's nameplate fuel-making capacity of over 700 000 barrels a day.

Natref will reopen in mid-June and the Cape Town refinery in July, according to the South African Petroleum Industry Association.

It said in an earlier statement that some of the lockdown measures being eased created a "dramatic increase" in demand for diesel, resulting in rationing of the fuel.

More than half of the country's capacity had been shut due to the lockdown as well as unplanned outages.

"Our refinery was undergoing planned annual maintenance as we went into the nationwide lockdown," Astron said. "This led to a delay in the work needed to be completed to ensure a timely start-up."

Sasol didn't immediately reply to emailed questions.

Sapia expects the diesel shortage to end by June as two refineries restarted earlier this month.

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