Russia's Khabarovsk refinery resumes gasoline production, but shortages persist

MOSCOW, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Gasoline production at Russia’s Far East Khabarovsk refinery resumed on Thursday, deputy Energy Minister Pavel Sorokin said, but there were still long queues at local gas stations, according to local citizens.

The Khabarovsk region has experienced gasoline shortages following unplanned maintenance at the refinery which is owned by Independent Petroleum Company (IPC). Two Khabarovsk citizens said private dealers were offering gasoline at double the retail price.

According to energy ministry data, isomeric and reforming units have been down at the refinery since Jan. 16.

The refinery usually produces around 1,800 tonnes of gasoline per day, the energy ministry data shows, and traders said it would have to run at maximum capacity for at least one month to balance the market.

The Khabarovsk government and refinery director Igor Bystrov confirmed gasoline production had resumed. IPC, headed by Eduard Khudainatov, the former CEO of Russian oil giant Rosneft and a close ally of Rosneft’s current president Igor Sechin, did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The shortage of Far East supply contributed to a jump in Russian gasoline prices in January, traders said, with the hike prompting Russian oil companies to increase refining throughput this month.

Gasoline prices in the Khaborovsk region rose faster than anywhere else in the country in January, according to Reuters calculations based on SPIMEX exchange data. They have increased by roughly 10,000 roubles per tonne ($132.1) so far this year.

Khabarovsk, about 6,110 km (3,800 miles) east of Moscow, is the site of long-running anti-Kremlin protests against President Vladimir Putin’s handling of a regional political crisis, which have been further fueled by the recent sentencing of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny. (Reporting by Maxim Nazarov and Olga Yagova, writing by Olga Yagova; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)