SEOL: South Korea’s strong desire to diversify its crude oil import sources became crystal clear with latest government data confirming that Asia’s fourth-largest energy consumer imported less barrels from its traditional Middle Eastern suppliers in 2017, while domestic refiners sharply raised purchases from North America last year. The US and Russia stood out from the preliminary data released by Korea Customs Service earlier this week, as South Korea imported significantly more cargoes from the two non-OPEC producers in 2017, while major Persian Gulf producers saw their market share fall. South Korea imported a total 148.86 million mt (1.1 billion barrels) of crude oil in 2017, up 3.29% year on year. The growth rate in 2016 was 4.44%, while in 2015 it was 10.61%, the data showed. Asian crude traders were not too surprised by the latest statistics from Seoul as South Korean refiners had long been under pressure to diversify crude procurement sources amid strengthening Brent pricing complex and tightening Middle Eastern crude exports amid OPEC’s ongoing commitment to limit output. We all know South Korean refiners were one of the most active Asian buyers of North American crude oil last year … the customs data simply proved their arbitrage activities in 2017. It was in fact economical for all Asian refiners to buy cheaper WTI-linked grades last year,” said a sweet crude trader based in Singapore.