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Lowest US petroleum consumption in decades

Published by , Editorial Assistant
Hydrocarbon Engineering,

US consumption of petroleum products has fallen to its lowest level in decades because of measures that limit travel and because of the general economic slowdown induced by mitigation efforts for the coronavirus (COVID-19). The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates the decline in petroleum product demand by examining the changes in total product supplied, EIA’s proxy for consumption. As outlined in EIA’s Weekly Petroleum Status Report, published yesterday, total petroleum demand averaged 14.1 million bpd in the week ending 17 April, up slightly from 13.8 million bpd in the previous week – the lowest level in EIA’s weekly data series, which dates back to the early 1990s. The most recent value is 31% lower than the 2020 average from January through 13 March, or before many of the travel restrictions began.

In the week ending 3 April, total US product supplied of petroleum products fell by 3.4 million bpd, the largest weekly decline in EIA’s data series. Changes in the weeks since then (weeks ending 10 April and 17 April) have been more muted, suggesting that consumption is stabilising.

Total petroleum demand measured as product supplied consists mostly of motor gasoline (45% of the 2019 total), distillate fuel oil (20%), jet fuel (9%), and chemical feedstocks and other fuels (26%). EIA uses estimates of product supplied from the Weekly Petroleum Status Report (WPSR) as a proxy for consumption because WPSR reports the amount of petroleum products that leaves the primary supply chain for ultimate delivery to consumers. The timing of changes in product supplied might not align with end-use consumption patterns because of variations in the timing of when respondents (such as refineries, importers, and bulk terminals) report movements of products within the primary supply chain.

Motor gasoline consumption has declined the most in absolute terms. Before many businesses were shut down and stay-at-home orders were issued, motor gasoline product supplied averaged 8.9 million bpd, based on 2020 data through 13 March. Since then, motor gasoline product supplied has fallen 40% to 5.3 million bpd as of the week ending 17 April. This decrease in motor gasoline product supplied accounts for 54% of the total change in product supplied. US consumption of jet fuel experienced the largest drop in relative terms, declining 62% from a pre-shutdown average of 1.6 million bpd to just 612 000 bpd on 17 April.

The decline in distillate fuel oil consumption so far has been less severe than the changes in motor gasoline and jet fuel. Through 13 March, distillate product supplied averaged 3.9 million bpd in 2020. By the week ending 17 April, distillate product supplied was 20% lower, at 3.1 million bpd. Distillate fuel oil is primarily consumed as diesel fuel, the predominant fuel of the trucking, locomotive, and agricultural sectors. Continued demand for distribution of necessities such as food and medical supplies and increased home deliveries for goods likely contributed to relatively stable demand for distillate fuel in the initial weeks following the shutdown.

Principal contributor: Jesse Barnett

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