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Today in Energy

September 3, 2020

U.S. energy imports and exports were nearly equal in May

U.S. total monthly net energy imports
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

In May 2020, the United States exported and imported nearly equal amounts of energy, based on data in the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Monthly Energy Review. The United States had been a net exporter of energy in several months of the past year. Changes in domestic production and declines in global demand for energy since mid-March in response to COVID-19 have shifted energy trade balances back in the direction of net imports, especially for U.S. crude oil and petroleum products.

U.S. total monthly net energy imports by source
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

The United States exported slightly more energy than it imported in May 2020; imports and exports were each about 1.7 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu). U.S. energy exports decreased 15% and imports decreased 19% compared with May 2019. Generally, the United States imports more crude oil than it exports, but it exports more petroleum products, natural gas, and coal than it imports. Trade volumes for other fuels such as biofuels, biomass, electricity, nuclear fuel, and coal coke are relatively small. EIA's Monthly Energy Review converts the physical volumes of energy trade into energy equivalent units based on each fuel’s estimated energy, or heat, content.

In 2019, the United States exported more total energy on an annual basis than it imported for the first time in 67 years. U.S. net exports reached a record-high monthly value of 480 trillion Btu in March 2020, but they fell to just 2 trillion Btu in May.

U.S. monthly energy trade by selected sources
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review
Note: Vertical axes were scaled to generally reflect differences in energy content across sources.

Crude oil: The United States has been a net importer of crude oil on a monthly basis since at least 1973, the earliest monthly data on record. U.S. monthly net imports reached a peak of 10.5 million barrels per day (b/d) in August 2006. In the past decade, increases in domestic crude oil production and the loosening of crude oil export restrictions have reduced U.S. crude oil net imports. In April 2020, U.S. gross imports of crude oil fell to 5.5 million b/d, the lowest monthly amount since February 1992, before increasing again to 6.1 million b/d in May 2020. U.S. gross exports of crude oil declined to 2.9 million b/d in May 2020, the lowest monthly amount since August 2018.

Petroleum products: The United States has been a net exporter of petroleum products, such as hydrocarbon gas liquids, distillate fuel oil (diesel), and motor gasoline, since May 2011. In May 2020, U.S. gross exports of petroleum products decreased 28% from the previous month to 3.9 million b/d, and U.S. gross imports of petroleum products decreased 3% from the previous month to 1.7 million b/d.

Natural gas: The United States has been a net exporter of natural gas since January 2018. In May 2020, U.S. natural gas exports by pipeline and as liquefied natural gas (LNG) fell 6% from the previous month to 13 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d). LNG exports have decreased by more than half so far in 2020, but EIA expects U.S. exports of natural gas to Mexico, the largest destination of U.S. natural gas exports, to rise because of the recently completed Wahalajara system. U.S. gross imports of natural gas averaged 6.1 Bcf/d, a 2% decrease from the previous month.

Coal: The United States has been a net exporter of coal since February 2006. U.S. gross coal exports have increased slightly in recent years but, in May 2020, fell 14% from the previous month to less than 5 million short tons. U.S. coal imports are relatively small and have generally declined since 2018. However, in May 2020, they increased 36% from the previous month to nearly 0.5 million short tons.

Other fuels such as biomass, electricity, and coal coke collectively accounted for about 1% of both U.S. gross energy imports and gross energy exports in May 2020. EIA’s Monthly Energy Review provides net and gross trade volumes for several fuels in energy units (quadrillion Btu) and physical units (such as barrels, cubic feet, and short tons).

Principal contributors: Mickey Francis, Owen Comstock