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Petroleum & Other Liquids

EIA's U.S. Crude Oil Import Tracking Tool: Selected Sample Applications

Release date: November 20, 2014


U.S. oil production has grown rapidly in recent years. U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data, which reflect combined production of crude oil and lease condensate, show a rise from 5.6 million barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2011 to 7.5 million bbl/d in 2013. EIA's Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) projects continuing rapid production growth in 2014 and 2015, with forecast production in 2015 averaging 9.4 million bbl/d. While EIA's Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) projects further production growth, its pace and duration remain uncertain, as shown by the significant differences between Reference case and High Oil and Gas Resource case projections, which differ in both the timing and level of the highest volume of U.S. crude oil production. EIA's next update to the AEO will raise projected production significantly in the Reference case.

Recent and forecast increases in domestic crude production have sparked discussion on the topic of how rising crude oil volumes will be absorbed. All of the net growth in U.S. domestic crude oil production between 2011 and mid-2014 has consisted of light crude with an API gravity measure that exceeds 35 degrees. Given the forecast continued growth in domestic crude production, and the expectation that additional onshore production will be dominated by light crudes, issues surrounding the absorption of domestic crude by increased runs, by like-for-like replacement of import streams with similar characteristics, or by adjustments in and displacement of other types of crude imports, are of great interest.

While EIA collects and publishes extensive data on crude imports in its monthly Company Level Imports data, use of that spreadsheet is difficult for many interested stakeholders and analysts. To assist both its own analysis and to better enable policymakers, outside analysts, and the public to track crude oil imports, EIA has developed and published a new U.S. Crude Oil Import Tracking Tool. The tool allows users to sort and display crude oil imports in monthly or annual time series, by crude type (i.e., light, medium, heavy), country source, receiving terminal, processing company, processing facility, and more. It includes a built-in tutorial section providing step-by-step instructions. This tool could also be used to provide timely data during emergency response situations, including how much crude is imported through a given port, what types of imported crude enter that port, and which refineries are serviced by that port.

This paper provides examples of the application of EIA's U.S. Crude Oil Import Tracking Tool. The development of publication of this tool, which sheds light on import adjustments being made in response to growing production of crude oil within the United States, is one part of EIA's ongoing effort to assess the effects of a possible relaxation of current limitations on U.S. crude oil exports, which is another avenue to accommodate domestic production growth. EIA is undertaking further work that bears on this larger question, and expects to issue further analysis reports over the coming months.


This paper provides several examples of the application of EIA's U.S. Crude Oil Import Tracking Tool. The examples were selected to illustrate its various capabilities to access information from EIA's monthly Company Level Import database at various levels of temporal, regional, company, and quality aggregation. The application of the tool yielded the following insights regarding recent trend in U.S. crude oil imports.

Volume and quality of U.S. crude oil imports: U.S. crude oil imports have declined since 2010, with nearly all of the decline occurring in light sweet grades. In particular, U.S. light crude imports fell 70.5% between 2010 and the year-to-date 2014 through August, to only 652,000 bbl/d.

Source of U.S. crude oil imports: Imports of light crude from Africa have declined by 92.7%, particularly from Nigeria and Algeria. Imports from Saudi Arabia have varied as that country continues to fulfill its role as swing producer and has adjusted its supplies of light crude to the U.S. according to changes in other producing areas such as Libya.

Light crude oil imports by region: The largest decline occurred on the Gulf Coast (PADD 3), down 94% from 2010 to the year-to-date 2014 through August, and dropped to nearly zero by July 2014. Light crude oil imports by East Coast (PADD 1) refiners were down 69% from 2010 to the year-to-date 2014 through August, reflecting both their increased use of domestic crudes and modestly lower refinery runs.

Refinery-level trends in light crude imports: Imports by the 10 largest refineries using light crude imports in 2003 accounted for 55% of total U.S. light crude imports, with the remaining 45% scattered among more than 100 other refineries. The largest source for light crude imports among this group of 10 refineries was Canada, followed by Nigeria and Mexico. Of these 10 refineries, 3 are located on the East Coast, 2 in the Midwest, 3 on the Gulf Coast, and 2 on the West Coast.

Refinery-level trends in imports other than light sweet crude: There is evidence that some refineries have recently reduced imports of medium and heavy grades of crude oil in order to accommodate increasing light domestic production while other refiners, which have made changes in processing equipment to accommodate heavier crudes, have decreased their demand for light crude.

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