Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the United States exporting gasoline when prices are so high?

In 2011, the United States exported more petroleum products, on an annual basis, than it imported for the first time since 1949. American refiners still imported large, although declining, amounts of crude oil. Gasoline exports were about 18% of total U.S. petroleum product exports in 2011, however, on a monthly basis, the U.S. was a small net exporter by the end of the year. Distillate fuel exports were about 30% of total U.S. petroleum product exports in 2011.

Most of the U.S. exports for gasoline and distillate come from the U.S. Gulf Coast where an excess in supply has resulted from both declining U.S. demand for gasoline (preliminary data for 2011 show U.S. gasoline consumption 6% lower than 2007) and increasing refining capacity. Gulf Coast refineries have a competitive advantage in some world markets. They have a sophisticated refining complex and can run relatively lower quality, and cheaper crude oils. In addition, they use natural gas for their fuel, which at current prices is an advantage compared to refineries fueled by petroleum, and have good water access and a location that allows for a relatively short-haul voyage to growing Latin American markets.

Historically, the U.S. market has relied extensively on gasoline imports for supply, particularly on the East Coast which has been the destination of about 85% of total U.S. gasoline imports. The Gulf Coast refineries export product rather than send more to the East Coast which receives most of its gasoline import volumes because pipeline capacity and domestic waterborne shipping constraints currently discourage increased volumes from traveling from the Gulf Coast to the East Coast. As long as European and other gasoline supplies remain competitive, the East Coast will continue to draw on these supplies. Additionally, expanded Midwest refining capacity is backing out requirements to ship products from the Gulf Coast north to that area.

The growth in U.S. gasoline exports does not necessarily mean higher pump prices for U.S. consumers. Rather, export markets are providing an outlet for refiners that might otherwise have faced lower profit margins that could encourage them to reduce output or possibly even shutdown, which could cause gasoline prices to increase. The March 7 edition of This Week In Petroleum, Déjà vu all over again? provides an analysis of key factors that the U.S. Energy Information Administration believes are driving gasoline prices.

Learn More:

Record Gasoline Exports Do Not Appear to Be Driving Gasoline Prices

U.S. petroleum product exports exceeded imports in 2011 for first time in over six decades

Other analysis of U.S. petroleum markets

Data on U.S. crude oil and petroleum imports, exports, and net imports

Posted: April 20, 2012


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