(EnergyAsia, March 31 2011, Thursday) — Japan may have to increase oil product imports in coming years to overcome the long-term loss of several refineries from the effects of the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck the northeastern part of the country on March 11.

Up to a third of the country’s 4.5 million b/d refining capacity was shut down for more than a week as a result of damage caused by fire and flooding by seawater, and fears that the plants were unsafe from the impact of the 9-richter scale earthquake. At least one million b/d of capacity is still idled nearly three weeks after the disaster.

The world’s third largest economy, in particular the greater Tokyo area, immediately suffered acute shortages of gasoline, diesel and other petroleum products after the refineries along the coast and the entire supply chain were crippled.

Engineers said the seawater will inflict long-term corrosive damage on the refineries and support infrastructure, raising Japan’s dependence on fuel imports.

Cosmo Oil Corp’s 220,000 b/d Chiba refinery was hit by fire while the country’s largest refiner, JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp, was forced to shut down its plants at Sendai, Kashima and Negishi with a total capacity of 554,000 b/d.

JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp and Cosmo Oil Co, which account for around one-fifth of Japan’s total refining capacity, immediately suspended fuel deliveries to the Tohoku, Kanto and Hokkaido regions, reserving supplies only for relief and rescue vehicles.