Exports of US petroleum outweigh imports

The US exported 89,000 bpd more petroleum (crude oil and petroleum products) than it imported in September 2019, the first month since the beginning of monthly records in 1973. The US imported 10 million bpd more petroleum a decade ago than it exported. Long-term shifts in U.S. trading trends for both crude oil and petroleum products have resulted in a steady decline in overall U.S. net oil imports.

The net oil trade is measured as total crude oil and petroleum products imports minus total crude oil and petroleum products exports. While the US actually imports more crude oil than it exports, it exports more petroleum products than it imports, leading to net total exports of petroleum.

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 7.0 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.

The U.S. lifted limits on domestic crude oil exports in December 2015. U.S. crude oil exports have since been the largest contributor to growth in U.S. petroleum exports; exports of U.S. crude oil 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, U.S. refineries responded by production to rising domestic and international demand for petroleum products (such as distillate fuel, motor gasoline, and jet fuel). Gross inputs into US refineries rose from an annual average of 14.6 million bpd in 2009 to 17.0 million bpd during 3Q19 and set new monthly record highs on a regular basis.

The growth in petroleum refining output has outstripped the rise in US demand, leading to an increase in exports of petroleum products. The US has gone from net imports of 698 000 bpd of petroleum products in 2009 to net exports of 3.2 million bpd of petroleum products so far in 2019. The US exported 1.4 million bpd of distillate in the first nine months of 2019, 1.1 million bpd of propane, and 864 000 bpd of motor fuel, the three highest exports of petroleum products.

Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) of the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) expected a monthly change to net petroleum exports in September 2019. In the latest STEO, EIA forecasts a continued increase in US net petroleum exports, averaging 751 000 bpd in 2020. If realized, the US would be the first annual net petroleum exporter.

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