In September 2019, the United States exported 89,000 barrels per day (b/d) 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 United States was importing 10 million b/d more petroleum than it was exporting. Long-running changes in U.S. trade patterns for both crude oil and petroleum products have resulted in a steady decrease in overall U.S. 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 United States currently imports more crude oil than it exports, it exports more petroleum products than it imports, resulting in net total petroleum exports.
Increasing U.S. crude oil production, which rose from an average of 5.3 million b/d in 2009 to 12.1 million b/d in 2019 (through September), has resulted in a decrease in U.S. crude oil imports from an average of 9 million b/d in 2009 to 7.0 million b/d in 2019 (through September). The decrease in U.S. crude oil imports also corresponded with a decrease in the number of sources the United States imported crude oil from.
In December 2015, the United States lifted restrictions on exporting domestically produced crude oil. Since then, U.S. crude oil exports have been the largest contributor to U.S. petroleum export growth; U.S. crude oil exports have grown from 591,000 b/d in 2016 to 2.8 million b/d in 2019 through September.
Despite increasing exports of crude oil, however, the United States remains a net importer of crude oil. The United States continues importing primarily heavy high-sulfur crude oils that most U.S. refineries are configured to process, and more than 60% of U.S. crude oil imports come from Canada and Mexico.
At the same time, U.S. 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 U.S. refineries rose from an annual average of 14.6 million b/d in 2009 to 17.0 million b/d through the third quarter of 2019, and they have regularly set new monthly record highs.
The increase in refinery production of petroleum products has outpaced the increase in U.S. consumption, contributing to an increase in petroleum product exports. The United States has gone from net petroleum product imports of 698,000 b/d in 2009, to net petroleum product exports of 3.2 million b/d so far in 2019. In the first nine months of 2019, the United States exported 1.4 million b/d of distillate, 1.1 million b/d of propane, and 864,000 b/d 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 United States has been a net exporter of several products on an annual basis. The United States 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 U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) had anticipated that the United States would transition to net petroleum exports on a monthly basis in September 2019. In the most recent STEO, EIA forecast that U.S. net petroleum exports will continue to increase, averaging 751,000 b/d in 2020. If realized, the United States would be a net petroleum exporter for the first time on an annual basis.
Principal contributor: Mason Hamilton