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Hiding in plain sight
New scoop highlights information asymmetry between oil industry and investigators
It’s really two stories in one. Using an industry-standard commodity flows model from Refinitiv, we identified a Greek refinery that appears to have:
imported millions of barrels of Russian oil via Turkey since the implementation of an EU ban last February — one of the clearest examples yet of the failure of the bloc’s sanctions regime;
refined some of the oil into jet fuel and naval ship fuel sold to the US military (!).
We hope it gets Joe Biden’s attention over his cornflakes.
More than anything, what this story highlights is the massive information gap that still exists between active participants in the commodities markets and investigators seeking to monitor them, whether at newspapers and broadcasters, NGOs or even government departments.
The Post article is studded with quotes from industry analysts confirming the dynamics. “There’s a stream of [oil] going to Turkey and miraculously, the same [oil] happens to end up in Greece”, says Viktor Katona at Kpler. “I don’t see any other possible conclusion than Russian fuel is going to Motor Oil Hellas”, says Robert Auers at RBN Energy.
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How can they be so confident? For anyone with access to the right commercial data subscriptions — in this case, services that aggregate AIS data from ships and use it to model the flows of oil and refined products around the world — the flows are there to see in black and white. But we’ve rarely seen this data used effectively for investigations. The main problem is cost: high-end commodity flows data is priced with traders and hedge funds in mind. But it can also be difficult for groups outside the industry to use effectively.
Information for traders prioritises speed and availability over transparent sourcing and pinpoint accuracy. For holding companies to account — whether in the mainstream press, through pressure on investors or via legal action — this isn’t good enough.
This is where Data Desk comes in, helping NGOs and journalists source the very best commercial data for their campaigns, acting as a trusted advisor in its interpretation and — importantly — verifying it using other sources, whether that’s customs filings or high-resolution satellite imagery. We call the method ‘supply chain forensics’, and it seems to be working pretty well so far, allowing our clients and partners to track everything from liquefied natural gas and fuel oil to soybeans and palm oil.
Got a story you think might be hiding in plain sight? You know where to find us.