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November 7, 2013

Japan is the second largest net importer of fossil fuels in the world

graph of net fossil fuel imports, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, GTIS, International Energy Agency, BP

Japan ranked as the second largest net importer of fossil fuels in the world in 2012, trailing only China. This follows the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, after which Japan suspended operations at all of its nuclear power plants. The loss of nuclear capacity resulted in a shift in Japan's energy mix toward oil and natural gas. Japan is now the third largest oil consumer and importer in the world behind the United States and China. Furthermore, it ranks as the world's largest importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and second largest importer of coal behind China. Japan has limited domestic energy resources, and the country meets less than 15% of its own total primary energy use from domestic sources.

Oil. Oil remains the largest source of primary energy consumption in Japan, although its share of total energy consumption has declined from 80% in the 1970s to 43% in 2011. Japan was the third largest net importer of crude oil and petroleum products in the world after the United States and China in 2012, having imported 4.6 million barrels per day (bbl/d). After Fukushima, Japan increased imports of crude oil for direct burn in power plants.

Japan is primarily dependent on the Middle East for its crude oil imports, as 83% of Japanese crude oil imports originated from the Middle East in 2012, up from 70% in the mid-1980s. Saudi Arabia is the largest supplier of oil to Japan, making up 33% of the import portfolio, or over 1.2 million bbl/d of crude oil. The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, and Iran are other notable sources of oil to Japan.

Natural gas. Because of its limited natural gas resources, Japan relies on imports to meet nearly all of its natural gas needs. In 2012, Japan consumed 4.4 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas, up 50% from the 2000 level. More than 95% of Japan's gas demand is met by liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports. Japan, the world's largest LNG importer in 2012, accounted for 37% of global LNG demand in 2012, up from 33% in 2011. As a result of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Japan's overall LNG imports rose 24% between 2010 and 2012, from 3.5 trillion cubic feet per year (Tcf/y) to 4.3 Tcf/y.

Japan uses most of its natural gas in the power sector (64%), followed by the industrial sector (21%), residential (9%), commercial (4%), and other sectors (2%) in 2012, according to PFC Energy and the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPC). A third of Japan's LNG imports originate from regional suppliers in Southeast Asia, with no one supplier having a market share greater than 20%. Japan's top five natural gas suppliers provided 70% of its natural gas imports in 2012.

Coal. Typically used as a baseload source for power generation, coal remains an important fuel, and coal-fired generators accounted for nearly 27% of Japan's electric capacity in 2010, according to the FEPC and the International Energy Agency (IEA). Domestic coal production ended in 2002, and Japan began importing all of its coal, primarily from Australia. Japan imported 204 million short tons of coal in 2012, a slight increase from 194 million short tons in 2011. Japan had been the largest global coal importer for three decades until 2011, when, according to World Coal Association estimates, China surpassed Japan by a narrow margin. By 2012, this gap widened as Chinese coal imports grew.

For more information, see EIA's Country Analysis Brief for Japan.

Principal contributors: Candace Dunn, Mark J. Eshbaugh