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Belgium Oil Security Policy

Part of Oil Security Policy

Belgium has well-developed oil infrastructure, including a large import terminal at the Port of Antwerp, several large refineries, notable oil storage capacity and extensive pipeline infrastructure. Owing to its central location in Europe, Belgium’s well-developed oil infrastructure plays an important role, not only for the country’s domestic oil consumption, but also for regional oil products trade.

The public oil stocks managed by the Petroleum Agency (APETRA), the Belgium public stockholding entity, is a key component of Belgian oil emergency policy. There is no compulsory stockholding obligation on the oil industry. Roughly 60% of APETRA’s emergency oil stocks are held in tank farms in neighbouring countries under bilateral agreements. 


Ports and pipelines

The Port of Antwerp is Belgium’s main sea terminal for oil trade (both crude and oil products), and is a major refuelling site for international shipping. The Port of Antwerp is also home to most of Belgium’s refining and chemical production capacity. The smaller Port of Zeebrugge is served by two oil products pipelines and has a storage for marine bunker fuels and a shipping refuelling terminal.

The Rotterdam Antwerp pipeline (RAPL) is Belgium’s only cross border pipeline for crude oil. The RAPL connects the major crude import terminals and refining facilities of the Port of Antwerp and the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands and has a capacity of 575 kb/d. Historically, the RAPL was used to deliver crude oil from the Netherlands to Belgium, but since 2016 it has been used to export refinery feedstocks from Belgium to the Netherlands. The Port of Antwerp includes over 1000 km of pipelines for around 50 different oil products. 

Crude oil net imports in Belgium, 2000-2020

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Refining

Belgium’s four refineries are strategically located near the Port of Antwerp and have a combined crude distillation capacity of 679 kb/d equivalent to 33 million tonnes (Mt) per year. The refinery owned by Total (with a capacity of 353 kb/d) and the refinery owned by ExxonMobil (with a capacity of 326 kb/d) together account for 85% of Belgium’s refining capacity. Both can produce a high yield of light and middle distillates, and are among the largest refineries in Europe. Notable improvements were made in both of these refineries in 2018 and 2019, greatly improving the thermal cracking-coking capacity and increasing the output of lighter oil fractions.

As a refining hub, Belgium depends to a large extent on imports of crude oil while the refining sector allows Belgium to produce a large number of oil products. In order to bolster growth of the refining sector by improving refinery-utilisation, and therefore of the domestic production of oil products, the federal government promoted investments in refineries. By securing greater production of oil products domestically, the government seeks diminished reliance on imports for its oil products and increases its energy independence. 

Storage

Belgium has 50 oil storage facilities with a total capacity of 110.4 mb, mainly for oil products. All oil storage capacity in Belgium is privately owned and operated, and is used mainly to support commercial operations but also provide emergency reserves to address supply disruptions. The majority of Belgium’s oil storage (44%) is located at the Port of Antwerp to support its large concentration of refineries and petrochemical facilities. 

Oil products' net trade in Belgium, 2000-2020

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Belgium's oil infrastructure, 2022

Oil Infrastructure In Belgium 2022

Organisation

Stock drawdowns are the key component of Belgium’s oil emergency response. APETRA is a public company owned by the federal government that is responsible for purchasing and managing emergency stocks of crude oil and oil products to ensure Belgium’s security of oil supply and to meet international oil reserve obligations. APETRA holds oil stocks under long-term contracts in private storage facilities, and is funded by a fee charged on most oil products consumed in Belgium.

The National Oil Board (NOB) is responsible for the supply and distribution of crude oil and oil products during emergency situations. The NOB is also responsible for activities related to Belgium’s international commitments in energy crisis management. The NOB is an advisory body comprised of representatives from the Directorate General of Energy (DGE), APETRA, and the cabinet of the Minister and the crisis cell of the Federal Public Service Economy.

Belgium’s response to oil supply shortages in emergency situations is primarily governed by the 1976 Law Approving the Agreement (LAA), which instituted the IEA’s International Energy Programme and the Compulsory Stockholding Act (CSA). The LAA provides general legal framework aimed at protecting Belgium’s oil supply. The CSA implements EU Directive 2009/119/EC and lays out a specific legal framework concerning the protection of Belgium’s oil supply by stockholding crude oil and petroleum products. Moreover, new decrees which have been adopted in recent years bolster the legal framework of Belgian oil emergency response, including Royal Decree of 19 December 2018 concerning the update of the Belgian oil National Emergency Strategy Organisation (NESO) and Royal Decree of 5 February 2019 establishing measures in an emergency oil supply.

Oil emergency response policy in Belgium is the responsibility of the federal Minister for Energy, in consultation with the Council of Ministers. Under the federal Minister for Energy, the DGE, within the framework of the NOB, is the principal actor responsible in the event of an oil supply emergency situation, organised under the NESO framework. The NESO team advises the federal Minister of Energy on maintaining and implementing emergency response measures during a supply disruption. The NOB is also responsible for monitoring domestic oil markets and for data collection.

In the case of an oil supply crisis, the NOB coordinates with and advises the federal Minister for Energy and the Council of Ministers on the method, duration and amount of the stock release. The Board also organises emergency response exercises in collaboration with APETRA and communicates with the oil industry on a regular basis.

According to the CSA, the federal Minister for Energy is entitled to decide to temporarily use part of the compulsory emergency stocks and may authorise a temporary reduction. In case of potential international or national supply problems, if the DGE decides that the NOB should meet and should the NOB deem that there is a crisis situation, this advice is transferred by the DGE to the federal Minister for Energy. Upon approval by the Minister, the NOB shall advise on the nature, amount and duration of stocks to be released and implement crisis measures in close coordination with APETRA.

Emergency oil stocks

Belgium meets its stockholding obligation to the IEA by holding public stocks managed by APETRA. According to the CSA, APETRA needs to hold oil stocks equivalent to at least 90 days of net imports, of which at least 30% should be key product that account for more than 75% of oil product demand, such as diesel, heating oil and gasoline. The CSA requires that APETRA’s crude stocks should be less than 60% of APETRA’s total stocks and product stocks held abroad should be less than 30% of total product stocks.

All Belgian oil emergency stocks are APETRA’s agency stocks; there is no compulsory stockholding obligation on the Belgian oil industry. Approximately 60% of APETRA’s emergency oil stocks are held in Belgium, consisting almost entirely of middle distillates (98%) and motor gasoline (2%). The remaining share of emergency oil stocks are held in neighbouring countries (France, Germany and the Netherlands), the bulk of which (89%) as crude oil stored in caverns in Germany.

Stock composition

Oil stocks owned by APETRA for emergency purposes are stored in storage facilities the Agency rents in Belgium and the neighbouring countries. APETRA currently rents storage capacity in sixteen storage facilities in Belgium with a total storage capacity of 11.4 mb, mainly for middle distillates. All of APETRA’s crude oil storage is in Germany and has a capacity of 15.3 mb. APETRA also uses storage facilities for middle distillates, gasoline and jet fuel in France, Germany and the Netherlands; together these facilities have a storage capacity of 2.5 mb. The storage capacities are rented through contracts of between 3 and 15 years and are allocated through competitive tenders. APETRA does not operate the facilities and has no responsibility for transporting oil from these facilities. 

Demand restraint measures

Belgium has at its disposal a number of dormant decrees which the Minister of Energy could activate after deliberation by the Council of Ministers.

Possible measures include:

  • speed limits      
  • driving restrictions (e.g. bans on Sundays, odd or even number plates) or complete driving ban      
  • rationing fuel oil  
  • rationing motor oil       
  • restriction on exporting certain oil products.     

There are no volumetric estimates for each of the separate demand restraint measures, but the total impact of all measures is estimated to be less than 5% of total oil consumption. The NOB has compiled a crisis management manual that includes updated lists of the priority end-users of petroleum products. These lists serve as a reference for drawing up ministerial decrees regarding demand restraint measures that focus on specific products or consumer groups.

The Belgian government has compiled a crisis management manual that includes updated lists of the priority end-users of petroleum products. These lists serve as a reference for drawing up ministerial decrees regarding demand restraint measures that focus on specific products or consumer groups.