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The world is running out of space to keep oil. Where will it go?

oil tanker off the California beach
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
About three dozen oil-filled tankers are parked off the coast of California with nowhere to go.
  • Tim McDonnell
By Tim McDonnell

Climate reporter

Published Last updated on

At beginning of this year, oil in the United States was selling for around $60 a barrel. Now you can barely get rid of the stuff; at $12 a barrel on April 29, a latte-sized cup of crude would cost less than five cents. Last week, oil futures prices went below zero for the first time ever—you’d have to pay someone to take it off your hands.

As the Covid-19 pandemic vaporizes global oil demand, producers are running out of places to keep their oil. About 60% of the world’s oil storage is occupied, and it’s filling quickly: According to Goldman Sachs, remaining capacity is likely to max out by mid-May.

In the US, the problem is about to get worse: Import deals signed before the crisis are moving forward. A fleet of 28 tanker ships carrying Saudi oil is due to join a queue of at least 76 tankers waiting to unload at US ports, according to Rystad Energy.

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