The United States was a net total energy exporter in 2019 and 2020
Up to the early 1950s, the United States imported relatively small amounts of energy.1 In the mid-1950s, the United States began to import greater amounts of crude oil and petroleum products (such as gasoline and distillate fuels) to fill the gap between petroleum consumption and domestic production.
Total U.S. annual primary energy net imports (imports minus exports) generally increased in most years since the mid-1950s and reached a record high in 2005, equal to about 30% of total U.S. energy consumption. Since 2005, total annual energy imports have decreased and total energy exports have increased. The United States became a net total energy exporter in 2019 for the first time since 1952 and maintained that position in 2020 even though both total energy production and consumption were lower in 2020 than in 2019. Total U.S. energy exports exceeded total energy imports by 3.46 quadrillion British thermal units (quads) in 2020, the largest margin on record. U.S. energy exports in 2020 totaled 23.47 quads, and energy imports fell 13% to 20.0 quads, the lowest level since 1992.
Decreases in crude oil and natural gas imports largely drove the change in U.S. energy trade in 2020
Despite a 4% drop in domestic crude oil production in 2020 from 2019, U.S. crude oil net imports in 2020 were the lowest since 1985. U.S. total annual crude oil exports have increased every year since 2010 and reached a record high in 2020 of about 3.18 million barrels per day (b/d). U.S. crude oil imports fell to about 5.88 million b/d in 2020.
U.S. petroleum products (excluding crude oil) imports and exports declined in 2020 from 2019: imports by 15% and exports by 5%. However, total annual petroleum products exports in 2020 were the third highest on record behind 2019 and 2018. Propane was the most-exported petroleum product in 2020, followed by distillate fuel oil.
Gross exports of natural gas increased every year since 2014, and in 2017, the United States became a net exporter of natural gas for the first time since the late 1950s. In 2020, natural gas gross exports reached a record high of 14.43 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) and gross imports of natural gas fell to 6.99 Bcf/d, the lowest level since 1993. Increases in domestic natural gas production and increases in liquefied natural gas (LNG) export capacity have contributed to growth in natural gas exports.
Trade volumes of coal and other fuels account for relatively small shares of U.S. total energy trade. U.S. coal exports, which had increased in both 2017 and 2018, decreased in both 2019 and 2020. The United States has been a net coal exporter since at least 1949.
Crude oil is the largest source of U.S. energy imports
Crude oil accounts for the largest share of U.S. energy imports on an energy content basis. Even though the United States remained a net importer of crude oil in 2020, crude oil net imports were the lowest level since 1985. Some of the imported crude oil is refined into products that are exported.
1 Based on the energy content of energy sources.
Last updated: May 17, 2021