NEOM Green Hydrogen Co. considering investments across the region

Special  The CEO of NEOM Green Hydrogen Co., David Edmondson, highlights the region’s energy transition journey. AN photo by Huda Bashatah
The CEO of NEOM Green Hydrogen Co., David Edmondson, highlights the region’s energy transition journey. AN photo by Huda Bashatah
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Updated 11 October 2023
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NEOM Green Hydrogen Co. considering investments across the region

NEOM Green Hydrogen Co. considering investments across the region

 

RIYADH: Energy firm NEOM Green Hydrogen Co. is considering investments and potential expansions across Saudi Arabia and beyond, a top official has revealed.

In an interview with Arab News on the sidelines of the Middle East and North Africa Climate Week in Riyadh, the company’s CEO, David Edmondson, discussed the energy transition journey in the MENA region, highlighting that a facility is slated to begin full-scale production of green ammonia by the end of 2026.

“We are interested in the next phase of investment. We’re doing various feasibility studies on what we could do, debottlenecking the existing plant and potentially looking at future investments. I can see additional investments in NEOM Hydrogen Co. but also across the whole of Saudi Arabia and in the MENA region,” said Edmondson.

He added: “No one has ever built a plant of this size or scale before. So this is the first of its kind, and we’re about four or five times bigger than any other plant that’s being considered even right now.

“We would like to provide additional investments to address the domestic market. However, the focus really right now is getting this project up and running and moving.”

Edmondson added that Saudi Arabia will soon become a global leader in exporting green hydrogen, attracting investors in the sector.

“Technologies keep developing. The investment situation is constantly changing. But I think with the commitments that Saudi Arabia has made through its Vision 2030, the aspirations they have to become a leading exporter, it provides a very positive location for investing at this level and exporting green hydrogen to the world,” said the executive.

Edmondson confirmed that the first wind turbines have been delivered to the port of NEOM, with hydrogen storage tanks arriving in November.

“We’re expecting to start producing ammonia, that is green ammonia, by the summer of 2026 and expect full production by the end of 2026,” he added.

NGHC is a joint venture between ACWA Power, Air Products, and NEOM.

Apart from limiting carbon emissions and promoting sustainable development in Saudi Arabia, this project is expected to contribute to the country’s diversification efforts.

The firm is set to sell its goods through US-based company Air Products, which has agreed a 30-year offtake, according to Edmondson.

“They’ve made very specific downstream commitments in Europe, in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. They’ve got receiving terminals. They’ll break that back down to hydrogen and then they will sell that locally. So those investments are already going on,” he said.

He further noted that the NGHC reached financial closure for its green hydrogen plant in May.

It finalized backing agreements with 23 local, regional, and international banks and investment firms to construct a green hydrogen production facility with a total investment value of $8.4 billion.

He added: “We actually committed back in 2020 to arrive at $900 million of shareholder funding to continue the work, to start placing the contracts that we needed to with financial close. We now have all the financing we need.”

The structure is being built at Oxagon, within Saudi Arabia’s $500-billion project NEOM.

Edmondson added that NGHC is currently in its next investment phase and is busy expanding its operating team.

“We’re already hiring our operations teams. We obviously have to provide training to those individuals. We want to provide opportunities for local Saudis. So yes, we are interested in the next phase of investment,” said Edmondson.

During the talk, the CEO noted that the plant aims to produce 600 tons a day of carbon-free green hydrogen by 2026.

“The project is really focused on the export market because back in 2019 and 2020, there wasn’t really a domestic market that was fully established. A lot is changing and I imagine in the next 2 to 3 years, the local market will continue to evolve and develop,” said Edmondson.

He added that all the products are for exports, saying: “If you look at that in light of the Vision 2030 commitments, the Kingdom is looking to export 4 million tons per year of low-carbon hydrogen by 2030. So we’re making 250,000 tons of that by 2026.”

Edmondson further emphasized that NGHC’s efforts will play a significant role in fulfilling the Kingdom’s adherence to becoming the world’s largest exporter of carbon-free hydrogen.

“Saudi Arabia is committed to being the largest exporter of low-carbon hydrogen. They've made some very bold aspirations. Clearly, NEOM Green Hydrogen Co. is at the beginning of that journey. We expect many others to follow,” said Edmondson.

He further highlighted that the world will soon see a variety of vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel, adding: “We'll see busses, trucks, trains even operated on hydrogen.”

Earlier in October, Saudi Arabia’s national railway company entered into an agreement with French rail transportation giant Alstom to commence testing for its ambitious hydrogen train project.

According to a Saudi Press Agency report, both entities will embark on operational experiments and studies to assess the trains’ compatibility with the environment, setting the stage for their future deployment.

Addressing the ongoing energy transition and climate-related concerns, Edmondson pointed out that the upcoming COP28 conference in the UAE this winter will act as a turning point for addressing the challenges posed by global warming.

“The dialogue on climate change has been going on for many years. I think there have been a lot of people who don't believe it. Increasingly it’s more obvious, and I think particularly to the younger generation will inherit the earth. So they see the urgency behind it,” he said.

Although significant investments are transpiring in green technology, the CEO added that limiting the global average temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius as outlined in the Paris Agreement remains a challenge.


Point-of-sale spending in Saudi Arabia hits record $16bn, SAMA reveals

Point-of-sale spending in Saudi Arabia hits record $16bn, SAMA reveals
Updated 24 May 2024
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Point-of-sale spending in Saudi Arabia hits record $16bn, SAMA reveals

Point-of-sale spending in Saudi Arabia hits record $16bn, SAMA reveals

RIYADH: Food and beverages transactions helped drive point-of-sale payments in Saudi Arabia to a record SR59.68 billion ($15.91 billion) in March, official data has revealed.

Figures released by the Saudi Central Bank, also known as SAMA, show an 8 percent annual increase in spending across all sectors, with outlays during the holy month of Ramadan likely responsible for driving the uptick, alongside an expanding market with flexible payment options.

Spending on food and beverages in March made up the largest portion, accounting for 17 percent of total payments for the month. 

Expenditures on restaurants and cafes, along with miscellaneous goods and services, each represented 12 percent of overall spending.

In February, Redseer Strategy Consultants predicted a heightened eagerness among consumers in Saudi Arabia to explore new attractions and destinations during Ramadan.

Their survey, probing changes in shopping behavior for Ramadan 2024 compared to the previous year, revealed that 62 percent of Saudi respondents planned to increase their spending, surpassing the 48 percent of respondents from the UAE.

The report highlighted that this surge is driven by factors related to platforms and experiences, particularly flexible payment options and the launch of exclusive products of high quality.

The research showed that in the UAE, where the market has matured, consumers are placing a growing emphasis on affordability, prioritizing products with the lowest prices.

Factors such as product variety, fast delivery, and quality no longer serve as significant brand differentiators, as the market has leveled the playing field.

Conversely, in Saudi Arabia, a market experiencing growth, there is a notable focus on platform and experience-related aspects. Flexible payment options and strong customer support are becoming increasingly important, indicating a shift in consumer preferences.

According to data from SAMA, the primary drivers of growth during this period were increased spending on miscellaneous goods and services, which include personal care supplies and cleaning products.

This category represented the second-highest share of March spending at 12 percent, having grown by 28 percent to reach SR7.06 billion. This growth accounted for 36 percent of the overall annual increase in POS spending.

The second-highest contributor to the rise is clothing and footwear, with an increase that contributed 26 percent to the overall growth, reaching SR5.8 billion in March. This was followed by food and beverages, contributing 13 percent, with spending reaching around SR10 billion, marking a 6 percent increase from the same month last year.

Research from Redseer indicated a strong inclination among Saudi respondents towards purchasing groceries, fashion, and beauty or personal care products during the month of Ramadan.

According to the survey, 93 percent of respondents were open to buying groceries, 84 percent to buying fashion, and 72 percent to buying beauty and personal care products.

This period is often associated with heightened social engagements, hospitality, and generosity, leading to increased consumer spending on food, gifts, and charitable donations. Additionally, businesses often offer special promotions and discounts during Ramadan, further stimulating consumer spending.

In Saudi Arabia, there has been a notable shift towards online payments and digitalization, driven by the country’s commitment to providing cutting-edge technologies for its tech-savvy population.

With the rise of e-commerce accessibility and the increasing convenience of online shopping platforms, consumers are opting for digital transactions more than ever before. This trend is not only reshaping the retail landscape but also significantly impacting consumer behavior.

The ease of comparing prices and product options online has empowered consumers, fostering increased competition among retailers and ultimately driving down expenses.

As a result, the adoption of digital payment methods continues to grow rapidly, reflecting a fundamental shift in how transactions are conducted in Saudi Arabia’s dynamic and rapidly evolving marketplace.

One challenge that arises with this growth is the proliferation of fraudulent sites and platforms attempting to deceive interested users. During Ramadan and Eid Fitr, the increase in retail and online transactions provides more opportunities for cybercriminals.

These fraudulent entities have targeted major Saudi platforms by creating fake websites designed to intercept two-factor authentication or one-time passcode codes.

According to Cyber Security News, this sophisticated phishing tactic aims to bypass security measures and gain unauthorized access to victims’ accounts.

Consumers are therefore strongly advised to avoid sharing personal and payment information on questionable sites or with individuals posing as bank or government employees.

Reporting suspicious resources to local law enforcement and designated contacts within these organizations is crucial in helping to mitigate potential fraud risks.


Nearly all Gazans in poverty, Palestinian Authority facing ‘imminent fiscal collapse’ - World Bank

Nearly all Gazans in poverty, Palestinian Authority facing ‘imminent fiscal collapse’ - World Bank
Updated 24 May 2024
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Nearly all Gazans in poverty, Palestinian Authority facing ‘imminent fiscal collapse’ - World Bank

Nearly all Gazans in poverty, Palestinian Authority facing ‘imminent fiscal collapse’ - World Bank

RIYADH: Nearly every Gazan is living in poverty as the Israel-Hamas war continues to have a “devastating impact” on the Palestinian economy, according to the World Bank.

An analysis by the organization sets out how the economic consequences of the conflict have spread beyond Gaza and into the West Bank, with widespread unemployment and underemployment combined with inflation causing a rapid decline in purchasing power for households in both areas.

Nearly half a million jobs across the territories have been lost since October 2023, and per capita gross domestic product declined by 12 percent in 2023.

Israel has bombarded the densely populated Gaza Strip following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israeli communities. Israel says Hamas killed some 1,400 people including children, and took more than 200 hostages, some of them infants and older adults.

The fiscal situation of the Palestinian Authority has dramatically worsened, according to the World Bank, with a financing gap expected to reach $1.2 billion heightening the risk of disorderly adjustments and a potential imminent fiscal collapse.

In May 2023, the World Bank forecast the Palestinian economy to grow about 3 percent by the end of the year, after a 4 percent post-COVID-19 boost in 2022.

That analysis has been completely reversed by the conflict, with the organization now forecasting the Palestinian economy will contract anywhere between 6.5 percent and 9.4 percent during 2024. 

“The northern governorates of Gaza are experiencing a full-blown famine, with food insecurity reaching catastrophic levels, particularly in the northern areas and extending southward,” said the World Bank’s latest report, adding: “At least one in four Gazan is experiencing catastrophic hunger, and 95 percent of the population is suffering from food insecurity.”

Most children in Gaza are at risk of “stunting” because of the famine, the analysis added.

Reflecting on the economic impact of the conflict, the report said the outlook of the Palestinian territories for the full year of 2024 “remains highly uncertain, depending on the severity and duration of the conflict, changes in Israeli policies in the West Bank, including those related to access to the Israeli labor market, and the outcome of the clearance revenue dispute.” 

The Palestinian Authority is facing a significant decrease in clearance revenue transfers and shrinking domestic resource mobilization, coupled with a rigid current expenditure envelope, the World Bank said.

“The PA’s financing gap after aid for 2023 reached $682 million or 3.9 percent of GDP, and the situation is expected to worsen further in 2024, with a potential financing gap of up to $1.2 billion. A focus on fiscal policies, especially those improving spending efficiency, particularly regarding the unsustainable wage bill and enhancing tax mobilization, must remain a top priority in the reform agenda,” said the report.

The World Bank argued that the banking sector across the territories is “well regulated” by the Palestine Monetary Authority, which has “steadily been building the capabilities and resilience of local banks.”

The report added: “Presently, the banking system is well capitalized, liquid, and compliant with the Capital Adequacy Requirements set by the PMA. At the same time, institutional and economic difficulties are tilting the risks upward for the financial sector. Actively avoiding further instability is crucial to allow the financial sector to maintain its established function as a stable pillar during periods of economic challenges.”


Startup Wrap – regional startup activity flourishes  

Startup Wrap – regional startup activity flourishes  
Updated 24 May 2024
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Startup Wrap – regional startup activity flourishes  

Startup Wrap – regional startup activity flourishes  

CAIRO: The startup ecosystem in the Middle East and North Africa region saw a flurry of activity as venture investments and acquisitions bloom. 

Saudi Arabia-based Software-as-a-Service provider Merit has raised $12 million in its pre-series B funding round, led by Alistithmar Capital i-Cap and followed by existing series A investors Tech Invest Com and Hambro Perks Oryx Fund. 

Founded in 2016 by Julie Barbier-Leblan and Thrishan Padayachi, Merit assists businesses in increasing customer and employee engagement via a suite of cloud-based SaaS platforms, enterprise solutions, applications, and software.  

This new round will help Merit develop its technology to enhance customer engagement. In 2021, Merit raised $5 million in a series A round led by Saudi Arabia’s Impact46, along with Tech Invest Com, Arzan VC, Hambro Perks Oryx, and several regional angel investors. 

Riyad Capital launches 1957 Ventures to support digital transformation 

Riyad Capital, backed by Riyad Bank, has launched the 1957 Ventures investment fund to drive transformative growth in Saudi Arabia’s fintech sector. 

The fund aims to accelerate the Kingdom’s digital transformation by creating opportunities for innovative fintech business models. 

Abdullah Alshwer, CEO of Riyad Capital, stated, “The 1957 Ventures Fund embodies a forward-thinking financial vision aligned with the Kingdom’s ambitious digital transformation goals; this fund signifies a strategic investment in the future of Saudi fintech.”  

“Our institutional approach will unlock new levels of innovation, driving both sector growth and sustainable economic impact,” he added. 

Saudi logistics startup MDD closes $1.3m series A round 

Saudi Arabia-based logistics startup MDD has closed its series A round with $1.3 million in funding for a 5 percent stake with a valuation of $26 million. 

Founded in 2019, MDD provides supply chain solutions for businesses. 

Saudi startup Sorbet’s raises funding round from web3 VC Adverse 

Saudi web3 startup Sorbet raised an investment round from the Kingdom’s recently announced venture capital firm Adverse. 

Founded by Rami Djebari and Maher Ayari, Sorbet aims to simplify business processes for freelancers by cutting fees and intermediaries. 

“Receiving support from an experienced partner like Adverse will accelerate our development and enhance our market strategy. This collaboration is a milestone in breaking down financial barriers and enabling limitless growth opportunities for professionals in the region,” Djebari said. 

Egyptian fintech e-Finance acquires stakes in Al Ahly Momken and EasyCash 

Egypt-based fintech e-Finance for Digital and Financial Investments has acquired a 25 percent stake in Al Ahly Momken and a 13 percent stake in EasyCash for Digital Payments for an undisclosed deal value. 

Founded in 2005, e-Finance is involved in the development of digital payment infrastructure and digital space to help achieve social development goals.  

Al Ahly Momken, based in Egypt, is a digital payment provider, serving over 90,000 merchants and more than 5 million customers.  

Meanwhile, EasyCash, also based in the north African country, provides payment services for individuals, merchants, and businesses. 

These acquisitions align with e-finance’s strategy to expand its footprint in the digital payments market and support Egypt’s Vision 2030 for digital transformation. 

Egypt’s OneOrder closes $16m series A round 

Egypt-based logistics startup OneOrder has raised $16 million in a series A round in a mix of equity and debt, led by Delivery Hero Ventures, with participation from Norrsken22 and existing investors, Nclude and A15. 

Founded in 2022 by Tamer Amer and Karim Maurice, OneOrder is a tech-enabled supplier and wholesale distributor that offers the food and beverages industry a supply of quality goods with embedded financing.  

The company plans to expand into the Gulf Cooperation Council region by the fourth quarter of 2024. In December 2022, OneOrder closed a seed round at $3 million. 

Jordan’s fintech liwwa takes $5m loan 

Jordan-based fintech liwwa has secured a $5 million loan from the US International Development Finance Corp.. 

Founded in 2013 by Ahmed Moor and Samer Atiani, liwwa is a peer-to-peer lending network that connects investors and small businesses through smart business loans.  

The latest cash influx will enable liwwa to finance further small and medium sized enterprises across various sectors. Liwwa’s last funding round was in 2022, when it raised $18.5 million in a pre-series B round of equity and debt. 

Egyptian investment bank EFG Hermes acquires stake in Danish wealth management firm 

Egypt’s investment bank, EFG Hermes, a subsidiary of EFG Holding, has acquired a minority stake in the Danish digital wealth manager Kenzi Wealth for an unknown value. 

The new partnership will enhance EFG Hermes’ digitalization vision. By combining EFG Hermes’ client network and Kenzi Wealth’s AI tools, EFG Hermes will be able to offer its clients a more efficient and personalized investment experience.  

Founded in 2021 by Mohamed El-Masri, Kenzi Wealth specializes in tailoring investment features to meet the needs of investors. 

Mohamed El-Masri, founder of Kenzi Wealth. Supplied

UAE’s Plain Tiger raises funding round 

UAE-based business-to-business marketplace Plain Tiger has raised an investment from UAE’s venture capital firm AngelSpark for an undisclosed amount. 

Founded in 2021 by Alexandra Polson and Oliver Baillie, Plain Tiger connects hotels with eco-friendly suppliers, saving them time, money, and reducing their environmental impact.  

The investment is part of Plain Tiger’s $1.5 million seed round, which will be used to expand into Saudi Arabia and accelerate more hotels’ pathway to net zero procurement. 

UAE’s Revent closes $900k in pre-seed round 

UAE-based electronics marketplace Revent has raised $900,000 in a pre-seed round, provided by Techstars and a group of angel investors. 

Founded in 2022 by Baldeep Singh and Dhananjay Choubey, Revent offers SMEs pre-owned devices on monthly subscriptions across the UAE and Saudi Arabia.  

The funds will be used to build a self-service platform for businesses, along with growing Revent’s client base in Saudi Arabia. 

UAE’s proptech Keyper closes $4m equity round 

UAE-based proptech Keyper has raised $4 million in equity in a pre-series A round, led by BECO Capital and Middle East Venture Partners, with participation from existing investors Vivium Holding, Jabbar Group, Signature Developers, and new investors Annex Investments, Pin Investment, and Al Qahtani Investment, among other angels. 

The company has also received an additional $30 million in Shariah-compliant sukuk financing from global asset manager Franklin Templeton Investments Ltd., bringing its cumulative capital raised to-date to over $40 million.  

Founded by Omar Abu Innab and Walid Shihabi in 2022, Keyper offers a property management platform where tenants can track their expenses and charge online, and investors get real estate portfolios and access to data-driven insights.  

Keyper will invest the fresh funds into digitizing the rental experience in the UAE and scaling its innovative rent now, pay later solution. Last October, Keyper raised a $6.5 million seed round. 

UAE’s proptech Huspy raises investment round 

The app of proptech firm Huspy. Supplied

UAE-based property technology firm Huspy has raised a fresh investment round led by Balderton Capital, with further participation from existing investor Fifth Wall, amongst other investors. 

Founded in 2020 by Jad Antoun and Khalid Ashmawy, Huspy facilitates the home buying and financing process through its online marketplace.  

The company claims that this round of funding is at a higher valuation than the $37 million series A raised in 2022. The newly acquired capital will be deployed to build a super app for real estate. 

Egypt’s proptech Birdnest raises pre-series A round 

Egypt-based proptech Birdnest has closed an undisclosed pre-series A funding round for a 20 percent stake in the company, led by Beltone Venture Capital and CI Venture Capital. 

Founded in 2020 by Mostafa El-Nahawy and Ahmed Fadda, Birdnest offers furnishing services and rental management solutions to ensure maximum returns for real estate investors and value for tenants.  

The funds are earmarked for the expansion of the regional quality team, the enhancement of proprietary technologies, and marketing initiatives to reinforce Birdnest’s market position.


Oil Updates – crude steady as investors weigh US rate fears, firmer seasonal demand

Oil Updates – crude steady as investors weigh US rate fears, firmer seasonal demand
Updated 24 May 2024
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Oil Updates – crude steady as investors weigh US rate fears, firmer seasonal demand

Oil Updates – crude steady as investors weigh US rate fears, firmer seasonal demand

SINGAPORE: Oil prices were stable on Friday as investors considered the latest comments from the US Federal Reserve on interest rates amid sticky inflation, while signs of firming seasonal US fuel demand lent support, according to Reuters.

Brent crude futures rose 2 cents at $81.38 a barrel at 6:15 a.m. Saudi time, while US West Texas Intermediate crude futures were down 1 cent at $76.86.

Both benchmarks settled at multi-month lows on Thursday, with Brent crude futures closing at their weakest point since January and US crude futures hitting a three-month low.

Brent futures were headed for weekly declines of more than 3 percent, while WTI futures were poised for a slide of nearly 4 percent from last week as ongoing macroeconomic constraints in the US held prices in the balance.

“The sore demand sentiment owing to the hawkish Fed outlook at rates and the backdrop of ‘possibly higher-for-longer rates’ weighed significantly on oil prices this week,” said Priyanka Sachdeva, a senior market analyst at Phillip Nova.

Minutes released on Wednesday from the Fed’s latest policy meeting showed policymakers questioning whether current interest rates are high enough to tame stubborn inflation.

Some officials said they would be willing to hike borrowing costs again if inflation surged. However, Fed Chair Jerome Powell and other policymakers have since said they feel further rate hikes are unlikely.

Higher rates could slow economic growth and crimp fuel demand.

Meanwhile, strengthening US gasoline demand was helping to stabilize prices ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, which is considered the start of the US summer driving season.

Gasoline demand in the US reached its highest level since November, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday. That helped support the market as US drivers account for around a tenth of global oil demand, “making the upcoming driving season a pillar of the recovery in global demand growth,” ANZ analysts said in a note.

All eyes are now on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, together called OPEC+, set to meet on June 1, where they are expected to discuss whether to extend voluntary oil output cuts of 2.2 million barrels per day.

“The market is also tentative about taking an aggressive positioning ahead of next week’s OPEC meeting, where supply policy will be discussed,” ANZ analysts added. 


Oil creeps back up after three days of losses

Oil creeps back up after three days of losses
Updated 23 May 2024
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Oil creeps back up after three days of losses

Oil creeps back up after three days of losses

Oil prices crept up on Thursday, clawing back some of the previous three days’ losses.

The gains were made despite the US Federal Reserve entertaining a further tightening of interest rates if inflation remains sticky, a move that could hurt oil demand.
Brent crude futures were up 92 cents, or 1.1 percent, at $82.82 a barrel by 1317 GMT. US West Texas Intermediate crude futures were 97 cents, or 1.3 percent, higher at $78.54. Both benchmarks fell more than 1 percent on Wednesday for their third straight day of losses.

Saudi crude exports
Saudi Arabia’s crude exports reached 6.41 million barrels per day in March, according to an analysis from the Joint Organizations Data Initiative.
This figure increased by 96,000 bpd, or 1.52 percent, compared to the previous month, marking a nine-month high. Furthermore, the data indicated that the Kingdom’s crude production fell to 8.97 million bpd, reflecting a monthly decrease of 0.42 percent.
This can be linked to the voluntary oil production cuts adopted by members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and their allies, known as OPEC+. Saudi Arabia announced in March the extension of its 1 million bpd cut, initially implemented in July 2023, until the end of the second quarter of 2024.
The Ministry of Energy said that the Kingdom’s production will be approximately 9 million bpd until the end of June.
Meanwhile, refinery crude output, representing the processed volume of crude oil yielding gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and heating oil, fell by 4 percent compared to the previous month, reaching 2.56 million bpd, according to JODI data.