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Monthly US petroleum exports exceeded imports for first time

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Hydrocarbon Engineering,

In September 2019, the US exported 89 000 bpd more petroleum (crude oil and petroleum products) than it imported, the first month this has happened since monthly records began in 1973. A decade ago, the US was importing 10 million bpd more petroleum than it was exporting. Long-running changes in US trade patterns for both crude oil and petroleum products have resulted in a steady decrease in overall US net petroleum imports.

Net petroleum trade is calculated as total imports of crude oil and petroleum products less total exports of crude oil and petroleum products. Although the US currently imports more crude oil than it exports, it exports more petroleum products than it imports, resulting in net total petroleum exports.

Increasing US crude oil production, which rose from an average of 5.3 million bpd in 2009 to 12.1 million bpd in 2019 (through September), has resulted in a decrease in US crude oil imports from an average of 9 million bpd in 2009 to 7 million bpd in 2019 (through September). The decrease in US crude oil imports also corresponded with a decrease in the number of sources the US imported crude oil from.

In December 2015, the US lifted restrictions on exporting domestically produced crude oil. Since then, US crude oil exports have been the largest contributor to US petroleum export growth; US crude oil exports have grown from 591 000 bpd in 2016 to 2.8 million bpd in 2019 through September.

Despite increasing exports of crude oil, however, the US remains a net importer of crude oil. The US continues importing primarily heavy high-sulfur crude oils that most US refineries are configured to process, and more than 60% of US crude oil imports come from Canada and Mexico.

At the same time, US refineries responded to increasing domestic and international demand for petroleum products (such as distillate fuel, motor gasoline, and jet fuel) by increasing throughput. Gross inputs into US refineries rose from an annual average of 14.6 million bpd in 2009 to 17 million bpd through 3Q19, and they have regularly set new monthly record highs.

The increase in refinery production of petroleum products has outpaced the increase in US consumption, contributing to an increase in petroleum product exports. The US has gone from net petroleum product imports of 698 000 bpd in 2009, to net petroleum product exports of 3.2 million bpd so far in 2019. In the first nine months of 2019, the US exported 1.4 million bpd of distillate, 1.1 million bpd of propane, and 864 000 bpd of motor gasoline, the three largest petroleum product exports.

Although seasonal monthly import and export patterns may result in month-to-month changes between net imports and net exports for some products such as motor gasoline, the US has been a net exporter of several products on an annual basis. The US has been a net exporter of distillate and residual fuel since 2008, a net exporter of hydrocarbon gas liquids and jet fuel since 2011, and a net exporter of motor gasoline since 2016 on an annual basis.

The US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) had anticipated that the US would transition to net petroleum exports on a monthly basis in September 2019. In the most recent STEO, EIA forecast that US net petroleum exports will continue to increase, averaging 751 000 bpd in 2020. If realised, the US would be a net petroleum exporter for the first time on an annual basis.

Principal contributor: Mason Hamilton

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