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Today in Energy

September 22, 2020

U.S. crude oil exports have fallen in each month since their record high in February

U.S. monthly crude oil imports and exports
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Petroleum Supply Monthly

U.S. crude oil exports reached a record high in February 2020 and have since fallen in each month, based on data through June, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Petroleum Supply Monthly. However, U.S. crude oil exports in the first half of the year are still higher than they were in the first half of 2019. Monthly crude oil imports declined sharply in April before increasing in May and June, but they were still lower in the first half of 2020 compared with the first half of 2019.

Global petroleum demand began to decline rapidly in early 2020 as much of the world initiated measures to limit the spread of coronavirus. In EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook, EIA estimates that global petroleum demand fell from 100.7 million barrels per day (b/d) in the first half of 2019 to 90.0 million b/d in the first half of 2020. Declining global demand for crude oil and petroleum products has driven U.S. exports and imports lower.

Despite a decline since the record monthly high of 3.7 million b/d in February, U.S. crude oil exports averaged 3.2 million b/d in the first half of 2020, up from 2.9 million b/d in the first half of 2019. U.S. crude oil exports to China drove part of this increase—increasing 213,000 b/d from the first half of 2019 to 361,000 b/d in the first half of 2020. The large increase in crude oil exports to China during the first half of 2020 was driven by exports in May and June of 1.3 million b/d and 0.7 million b/d, respectively. In those months, China surpassed all other destinations to become the largest destination for U.S. crude oil exports.

U.S. monthly crude oil exports by destination
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Petroleum Supply Monthly

In the first half of 2020, U.S. crude oil exports to China were the second largest after Canada. U.S. exports to Canada averaged 389,000 b/d of crude oil, down 19% from the same period in 2019. The Netherlands, South Korea, and the United Kingdom were the next largest destinations for U.S. crude oil exports in the first half of 2020. Compared with the first half of 2019, exports to the Netherlands and the United Kingdom increased by 11% and 18%, respectively, and exports to South Korea fell by 27%.

U.S. crude oil imports averaged 6.2 million b/d in the first half of 2020, down 12% compared with the first half of 2019. Monthly imports declined significantly in April before increasing in May and June. Imports from Saudi Arabia drove the large monthly increase in U.S. crude oil imports in May, which increased from 0.4 million b/d in April to 1.2 million b/d in both May and June.

This spike in U.S. imports from Saudi Arabia followed a surge in Saudi Arabia’s crude oil production in April, which occurred as an earlier agreement to cut production by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and partner countries (OPEC+) expired and before a new agreement was in place. Crude oil production in Saudi Arabia rose to a high of 11.6 million b/d in April (the highest level in EIA’s monthly data going back to 1993). Because the transit time for crude oil tankers from the Persian Gulf to the United States is several weeks, these imports from Saudi Arabia did not show up as U.S. imports until May and June.

OPEC+ implemented its most recent production cuts in May, and as Saudi Arabia’s crude oil production declined, U.S. imports from Saudi Arabia fell. Preliminary weekly data indicate that U.S. imports from Saudi Arabia fell in July and August to 513,000 b/d and 311,000 b/d, respectively.

U.S. monthly crude oil imports by country of origin
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Petroleum Supply Monthly

For a more detailed discussion on U.S. imports and exports in the first half of 2020, see EIA’s This Week in Petroleum published on September 16.

Principal contributor: Matt French