As pump prices hit record highs… Where is the new U.S. oil going? « Michael Levi

February 12, 2012

The U.S. is in a new oil boon… Pump price are hitting record highs and we keep subsidizing billions and opening fed land and gulf to new drilling…so where is the oil goin?

Michael Levi: a hidden U.S. export boom. 

There’s starting to be more and more coverage in the mainstream media, but I still wonder whether it’s sunk in to most Americans just how historic the changes going on right now in oil production in the United States really are. Last year, for the first time since the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) began comprehensive data (in 1993), annual U.S. crude exports of petroleum products exceeded imports in 2011 (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. U.S. Net Imports of Petroleum Products (1993–2011)

U.S. refineries sent away an average of 380 thousand barrels per day (kb/d), on a net basis, last year. That is a steep and remarkable drop from years past. In October 2005, net imports were just shy of 4.0 million barrels per day (mb/d).

The trend is even more remarkable in individual product categories, for which U.S. Department of Energy data extend back to 1945 (Figure 2). Unlike total U.S. net import data, data for the two major refined products, motor gasoline and distillates (a category that includes diesel and heating oil), are available reaching back to the end of World War II. The last time the United States was a consistent net importer of finished gasoline was in 1959. Net distillate imports oscillated between positive and negative territory during the early 1990s, but the United States hasn’t consistently imported diesel and other distillates since the 1950s.

Where has the oil been going? 

Mexico and Brazil have become two major customers, among others (Figure 3). As of November 2011, net exports of petroleum products to Mexico had risen to nearly 600 kb/d, a record level, while the net flow to Brazil was a volatile 137 kb/d.      

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