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Today in Energy

December 12, 2018

For one week in November, the U.S. was a net exporter of crude oil and petroleum products

Weekly net crude oil and petroleum product trade
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Weekly Petroleum Status Report

During the week ending November 30, 2018, the United States exported more crude oil and petroleum products than it imported for the first time in weekly data going back to 1991. From November 24–30, the United States exported an estimated record 3.2 million barrels per day (b/d) of crude oil as well as an estimated 5.8 million b/d of petroleum products such as distillate fuel oil, motor gasoline, and propane.

This single-week estimate is part of a longer-term trend of declining imports of crude oil and increasing exports of petroleum products and, more recently, crude oil. From week to week, estimated net crude oil and petroleum product trade volumes can vary by as much as two million to three million barrels per day because of how the data are collected and processed.

In mid-2016, EIA improved its weekly estimates of crude oil and petroleum product exports by incorporating near real-time data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the government agency responsible for collecting export data for the U.S. Census Bureau. Monthly export volumes provided by the U.S. Census Bureau and published in EIA’s Petroleum Supply Monthly are EIA’s definitive data series for petroleum exports and are considered higher quality than the weekly estimates.

U.S. crude oil production has increased in recent years, recently setting a record of 11.5 million b/d in September, while U.S. crude oil imports have decreased. After averaging a record high of 10.1 million b/d in 2005, gross crude oil imports fell to an average of 7.3 million b/d in 2014. Since then, annual crude oil imports have increased slightly, most recently averaging 8.0 million b/d in 2017.

At the same time, U.S. refinery runs have been at record-high levels. The increase in refinery output of petroleum products has outpaced growth in U.S. consumption of petroleum products such as distillate fuel oil, gasoline, and propane, leading to an increase in petroleum product exports.

As a result, the United States has been in a long-term trend of declining net imports of crude oil and petroleum products. However, the United States still imports more crude oil than it exports: in September 2018, the most recent monthly data, the United States imported 7.6 million b/d and exported 2.1 million b/d. U.S. exports of petroleum products have continued to increase, and in 2017, the United States was a net exporter of several petroleum products such as motor gasoline, distillate, hydrocarbon gas liquids, and jet fuel.

Weekly gross crude oil and petroleum product trade
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Weekly Petroleum Status Report

The recent increase in U.S. crude oil exports occurred despite the United States exporting no crude oil to China in August and September. Before August, China was the second-largest destination for U.S. crude oil exports, receiving an average of 378,000 b/d in the first seven months of 2018. The drop in U.S. crude oil exports came after the Chinese government temporarily included U.S. crude oil on a list of goods subject to increased import tariffs in addition to a narrowing difference between international crude oil prices and U.S. crude oil prices.

Weekly gross crude oil and petroleum product trade
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Petroleum Supply Monthly

China was the second-largest destination for U.S. crude oil exports in 2017, receiving 221,000 b/d, or 19%, of total U.S. crude oil exports that year. In February 2017, China received more U.S. crude oil exports than Canada, marking the first time that a country other than Canada was the top destination of U.S. crude oil exports on a monthly basis. China’s imports of U.S. crude oil also surpassed Canada's imports of U.S. crude oil in October 2017 and in three months in 2018. In August and September 2018, exports to other countries in Asia such as Taiwan, South Korea, and India partially offset the drop in U.S. crude oil exports to China.

Principal contributors: Mason Hamilton