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Today in Energy

March 13, 2019

The United States imports and exports substantial volumes of petroleum

U.S. petroleum trade
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Petroleum Supply Monthly, Monthly Energy Review

U.S. net trade of petroleum, which includes crude oil, petroleum products, and natural gas plant liquids, has fallen in recent years, reaching 2.3 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2018. This level is the lowest level of net petroleum trade (imports minus exports) since 1967. At the same time, total U.S. gross petroleum trade (imports plus exports) have reached an all-time high of 17.5 million b/d in 2018. The result has been a growing role for the United States in world petroleum trade.

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

Crude oil imports have decreased in recent years as U.S. crude oil production has increased. After averaging a record high of 10.1 million b/d in 2005, crude oil imports fell by 2.8 million b/d to an average of 7.3 million b/d in 2014. Since then, crude oil imports have increased slightly, averaging 7.7 million b/d in 2018.

Not all crude oil is the same quality. Most of the reduction in U.S. imports was of light, sweet crude oil, as those barrels were replaced by domestic production of a similar quality. U.S. crude oil exports have also increased as domestic production has risen. U.S. crude oil exports have set annual record highs in each year since 2014, most recently averaging 2.0 million b/d in 2018.

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

Total U.S. petroleum product exports averaged a record 5.6 million b/d in 2018. Distillate and gasoline exports have increased, particularly to countries in the Western Hemisphere. Propane exports have also increased, mostly to Asian markets.

EIA expects these trends to continue over the next several years. In its March Short-Term Energy Outlook, EIA forecasts that the United States will become a net exporter of crude oil and petroleum products on a monthly basis later this year and on an annual basis in 2020.

U.S. net imports of crude oil and liquid fuels
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook, February 2019
Note: Liquids fuels include gasoline, distillate fuels, hydrocarbon gas liquids, jet fuel, residual fuel oil, unfinished oils, other hydrocarbons/oxygenates, and other oils.

Principal contributor: Hannah Breul