Forbes Making Misleading Claims

Forbes magazine is making claims that the U.S. is exporting oil to other countries:

America’s Oil Export Problem (Yes, Export)

The U.S. could cut oil imports by nearly 15% tomorrow without using less gasoline, invading a foreign country or driving up prices at the pump. How? By cutting exports.

This will come as a surprise to many, but in the past four years U.S. oil and petroleum exports have reached four consecutive record highs–at least since the early ’80s. In 2007, the U.S. exported 1.43 million barrels of oil per day; up by roughly half a million barrels of oil per day since 2004.

As I said when Jon Tester made similar claims, that’s utter rubbish:

First off, here are the numbers from the EIA on exports from the U.S. of petroleum and petroleum products. What is the #1 destination for these exports? Mexico, one of our largest suppliers of crude oil. #2? Canada, our largest supplier of oil. And what are we sending them? Here, again, is the breakdown. The #1 product that we are supplying? Petroleum coke. #2? Residual fuel oil.

Misleading arguments simply give comfort to those who would argue that energy independence is within our grasp. After all, we are exporting all of this oil to other countries! But such arguments misrepresent the situation we are in.

The argument is correct on one point. Exports of high sulfur diesel did increase when the ultra-low-sulfur-diesel specs went into effect in the U.S. in 2006. However, in 2007 they were back down to the 2005 levels. Further, the total is still only a fraction of the ‘barrels’ of petroleum coke that are factored into the total ‘petroleum’ exports.

But the sound bite message that most people will come away with from articles like this is that we could go a long way toward energy independence if we just stop exporting oil. Just like we could be energy independent if those darn environmentalists would move out of the way and let us drill into our remaining oil reserves. The fact is, the problem of energy independence is so much greater than that. Drilling would be a drop in the bucket (albeit one that I favor). Exports are a drop in the bucket, and the countries that receive the exports – primarily Canada and Mexico – provide us far more petroleum in return.

20 thoughts on “Forbes Making Misleading Claims”

  1. People are looking for the easy fix. Drill now, stop exporting.
    In fact we use about 20 mbd (maybe 19 mbd now) and import about 12-13 mbd.
    Drill to the moon, and we get another 1-2 mbd. If we are lucky, about 10 percent reduction in our imports.
    It will take a decade, maybe more, of serious investment in our energy and transportation sectors to obtain a rough measure of independence.
    That means much, much higher mpg cars by the tens of millions, mass transit, and densified cities, and reduction of subsidies for rural populations, especially huge bucks for bridges to nowhere.
    Additional billions for CTL, shale oil development, biofuels and we might make serious headway. And drill, baby, drill. (Although I think the potential for cold-tolerant oil palms in Louisiana is interesting).
    The good news in all of this is that reductions in oil imports will mean extra hundreds of billions circulating in our economy, not the Dubais of ther world. We could usher in a business and jobs boom in America.
    We can do it. Democrats have to look at business a partner not an enemy, and Repubs have to give up fantasies that drilling and tax cuts will take us to nirvana.

  2. Forgive my ignorance but I am an energy novice, so to speak. I still don’t understand why we are exporting anything? Can you explain that please?

  3. “I still don’t understand why we are exporting anything? “

    Keep the cream, export the crud.

  4. I still don’t understand why we are exporting anything? Can you explain that please?

    First, a large portion of the ‘barrels’ that are counted as exports are petroleum coke. We have an excess supply of that, so some gets exported. Second, let’s say a refinery is located in one of the states bordering Canada. Their oil supplies are almost certainly coming from Canada, and they may have a nearby market to sell some of their gasoline back to Canada. There can be a shortage of gasoline in the southeast, but the market could be saturated around them, and so they sell some gasoline to Canada (essentially taking Canadian crude, refining it, and sending some gasoline back).

    Cheers, RR

  5. I’d like to see an oil chart priced with gold instead of dollars. Oil isn’t up much in the last 20 years if you’re buying it with another commodity. Is oil down because the dollar is up or the other way around? I suspect commodities are down because China’s economy hit a brick wall. Cheaper commodities do wonders for the U.S. economy,so the dollar rises as a result. Chinese beaurocrats fudge statistics to make party bosses happy. China could be in a depression,and they’d still report 10% growth next year. Chinese people love gold though. And if gold drops $45 in one day,that’s a better indicator of what’s really happening in China imo.

  6. Coincidentally I was reading a report on pet coke. The US produces about 40 million tons per year and exports about 25 million. Petcoke competes with US coal for exports. Because pet coke has a much higher BTU per pound, it is cheaper to ship coke than coal on a heating value basis. Coke is gaining market share in cement production because the higher sulfur and metals in the coke aren’t as much of a problem in cement as they are in conventional steam boilers.

    Even if we didn’t export ANY pet coke, that wouldn’t make us less dependent on foreign energy. Pet coke would just replace coal that we are already producing.

  7. Now Is The Time For A New Energy Revolution

    It is time for an energy revolution, and we must work together to change the world now. There is a crisis at hand that will effect the entire planet, in short order, it will endanger our very survival and the future of our children. It endangers our economy right now. We send our children overseas to protect oil reserves in foreign lands so those lands can hold us hostage for a gallon of gas. It is not right. We have the ability to become self sufficient, we must become self sufficient NOW!

    It is time to take a stand, we don’t have 25 years for our automakers to catch up to China’s auto emission standards, that’s a joke! China does it today, we need to do it today. We need to start now, we need to change now, solar, wind, and hydro power are all clean and renewable and hydrogen is the most common element in the universe, we will never run out. Hydrogen powered fuel cells… great idea! Those are the answers, fossil fuel is going the way of the dinosaur and we will follow if we don’t wake up today. Nuclear… well if the plant doesn’t blow up, you still have all those barrels of waste to deal with. Burying the barrels to create another terrorist target, honestly is that really an answer we can live with? Ethanol, just another joke, either our farmlands are over taxed producing corn ethanol or we strip our topsoil everywhere by creating a market for cellulosic ethanol, either way, we loose. The biggest joke is the ethanol vehicles get roughly 27% less gas mileage than their all gas counterparts. I challenge the world to work together to develop cold fusion without toxic waste. I challenge the world to put solar panels on every building with a sunny exposure. I challenge the world to develop safe hydrogen power systems and I challenge the governments to actually do the right thing! I challenge everyone, everywhere to do one thing each day, spend some time alone and come up with a plan, a plan that may seem inconsequential, however when combined with everyone else, the tide will turn.

    Things have to turn and it won’t happen by itself, we have to make it change now! Does anyone remember the 1984 Honda civic coupe, it got 67 miles to the gallon without a hybrid engine. It wasn’t rocket science, the cars were simply lighter. Gas is approaching five dollars a gallon and Detroit is re-launching their old line of heavy muscle cars, frankly they deserve to go bankrupt. The Prius is the flagship of the energy revolution and the Ford Escape hybrid is an SUV that gets 36 miles to the gallon. Why do we only have two, shame on us, for not screaming from the roof tops, “we want energy efficient vehicles and homes without oil tanks”! MY QUESTION IS WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO, AND HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE FOR YOU TO GET OFF YOU’RE A$$ AND GET STARTED?

    Frustrated? Worried it just doesn’t matter? It does matter and the only thing that has ever changed the world started with a small group of thoughtful committed people. People that understand that the only way you ever receive anything worth having, is by giving of yourself first. Don’t stand there holding your hand out, lend a hand, believe in yourself, believe in the cause, believe you can make a difference and tell one other person. There really are only two valid choices left, step up and be the change you want to see, or just get out of the way. Standing still with business as usual is no longer an option. I am stepping up as a leader in this new energy revolution, and I am looking for a few good, committed people to help.

    Sign in to the New Energy Revolution BLOG and let us know how you feel
    Send this story to all of your friends.

    Steve Schappert CEO, Connecticut Real Estate and Construction LLC.
    Office: 203-546-8127
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  8. Drilling now will help. It's not going to achieve nirvana, but it will drop prices in the immediate. It will bring on oil production in less than the normally stated 10 years.

    I also don't buy into the Perkins plan. The guy is full of it. I have read about his bizarre antics to get water rights in the midwest, and I am not convinced his wind mill proposal isn't just a big shell game to hide the real purpose of his plan.

    Yesterday I also read a story about Toyota, that could be simply fear mongering on their part (to curtail interest in the Volt), that plug in hybrid owners probably won't be plugging in very often, since they will still have the on board generator to charge the batteries. Also, it isn't clear if they do plugin, that they will plugin at the best times, etc.

    Let's face it: we need a portable fuel we can put in a car, that will give max performance until the last drop of it is consumed from the storage tank. And I emphasize tank: gasoline is not inherently evil. With enough renewable resources &/or nuclear, we could convert anything into gasoline, including the CO2 we are expelling currently. I also know that conversion of one energy form to another is not the most efficient way to do business, R^2 always reminds us of that. But I think it may not matter here. Consumers want simplicity and predictability. If we have enough excess energy to do conversions, and it's not too much of a surcharge, people will pay the slightly extra, just to have something they can rely on.

    Fuel cells are another potential avenue that has a tank rather than a unobservable battery cell.

    I think the real limit to battery technology is how we measure performance left… we can't even properly predict battery life on small laptops down to the 3 minute mark (safely), how can we make people confident they can ride that last charge down to the exact point they roll into the station running on Newton's Laws (rather than electrons)?

  9. RR-
    Now the French say they can make EVs:

    At the Paris Motor Show on Thursday, Pelata announced that the French carmaker would build a pure electric version of the Fluence, a mid-size sedan, and sell as many as 40,000 in 2011. “But we could double that” in the following year, Pelata said.
    Such sales volumes could make Renault the world’s largest producer of electric road vehicles — far outpacing, for instance, the production numbers proposed for General Motors Corp.’s much-vaunted Volt, due out in 2010. GM is planning to make 10,000 a year to start.

    France already supplies 80 percent of its grid with nukes, and has two more huge nukes underway. Now they will have EVs also. It is hard to see how the doomer argument applies to France. Or the world.

    In remarkably short time, the innovators and engineers have commercialized the EV. They are the real heroes of today. Not the snivelers, the doomers, or even wanna-be pundits like me.

    The EV shifts demand for power from oil to the grid. The grid can be powered by nukes, solar, wind, coal, geothermal, and (effectively) through reductions in demand through better lighting and HVAC systems.

    Not only do we slay OPEC, we get cleaner air. I just don’t see a downside here. I see a huge case for optimism.

    The full article is in today’s LA Times. Some car industry types are quoted to the effect that they got the lithium batteries to work. The technology is there.

    I stand at full attention and salute whoever these obscure engineers and researchers and dedicated smart guys are who perfected the lithium batteries. They are ones who should be on the cover of Time, feted in the White House etc.

    As it is, they will labor in obscurity as some bozo CEOs claim credit. Oh well. They know who they are, and the huge service they have done mankind.

  10. They wouldn’t have had a paycheck without those bozo CEO’s Benny. And I doubt hundreds of engineers would have gathered in their spare time to put forth the effort. Billions of dollars are being raised to fund Silicon Valley start-ups that want to make biocrude. Bill Gates just pumped money into Sapphire. All that money will flow down to the lowly scientists and engineers,who will devise new and remarkable yeast that’ll power a brave new world. There isn’t enough uranium to power a nuclear world. There isn’t enough arable land to make enough bio-crude for that matter. But,a combination of technologies and innovations will provide enough food and energy to support at least half the worlds population 25 years from now. If we’re lucky.

  11. Soth Africa unveiled the Joule at the Paris auto show. Hits the market in 2010. Two lithium-ion batteries. Range of 400 kilometers.

  12. William,

    In the article, you used 2007 numbers, and made a claim based on the amount of oil exported (1.43 million bpd). I refuted that claim by showing that the #1 product we exported in 2007 was pet coke, and our exports primarily went to Mexico and Canada. Those are facts. You now respond that I am wrong, and use 2008 numbers to do so? You would be correct if I stated this and you had used 2008 numbers in your article (but still wrong about the amount we could save on imports, since you have missed the large amount of pet coke that is counted as oil). But you used the same 2007 numbers Jon Tester did to make the same incorrect claim. Thus, when you write “This is more than misleading. It is wrong.” – you are mistaken because I addressed what you wrote.

    Finally, you say “R-Squared Energy fails to recognize the strong correlation between the implementation of the EPA’s ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel regulation…” That’s funny, since I said that the article was correct that those exports spiked when refineries made the switch (and some couldn’t get switched over in time). I was working in a refinery at the time that made the switch, so I am quite familiar. I expect to see the 2008 numbers fall again should refiners determine it economically viable to meet the new specs.


  13. Robert:

    Fair enough. We’re talking about two sets of numbers. The 2007 numbers and the 2008 numbers. My article was first and foremost about the 2008 numbers, particularly the surge in oil distillate exports. As for the 2007 numbers, you’re correct that petroleum coke was the number one export. Does that matter? Finished petroleum product exports have still risen dramatically in the past five years (and petroleum coke accounts for only a small portion of that rise). So have total crude oil exports. Meanwhile, exports to Canada and Mexico account for only a small share of the rise in exports since 2002. Panama, Chile and the Netherlands account for the lion’s share of the rise in exports since 2002. At a time when oil prices are as high as they are now, the fact that exports are rising rapidly strikes me as an important part of the discussion. Numbers aside, the real claim I’m trying to make is that regulation matters and the record suggests that the government has mismanaged the regulations. In any event, I’ve been reading R-Squared for a while and tend to agree with most of the points you make.


  14. As for the 2007 numbers, you’re correct that petroleum coke was the number one export. Does that matter?

    In the context of your article – that we could cut imports by nearly 15% – yes it matters. Petroleum coke is just one thing buried in that number that skews your conclusion. If we stopped exporting pet coke, it wouldn’t have any impact on our oil imports. It would just displace some coal.

    Second, you used 2007 numbers in your article. That’s what I responded to – the claims of 15% reduction and 1.43 million bpd of exports. My response directly addressed that.

    I admit that this is a touchy subject for me because of the way Tester used the same sort of argument. He was arguing that those greedy oil companies don’t have the best interests of Americans at heart, thus contributing to the animosity. It was based on a flawed argument, though.


  15. Robert:

    If you rank exports by value rather than barrel amount, it shows the relative insignificance of petroleum coke exports. It also underlines how large U.S. exports of “petroleum products” have grown.

    Here is a link
    to the data . . .

    I should add that oil exports were essentially non-existent during the oil shocks of the 1970s, which suggests the trade analysis is less complicated than it appears.

  16. If you rank exports by value rather than barrel amount, it shows the relative insignificance of petroleum coke exports.

    But that’s not what you did. You made a barrels per day claim of 15% savings based on the 1.4 million bpd of total products we exported in 2007; products that included a large fraction of pet coke. If you want to rank them by value, fine. But I addressed what you wrote.


  17. True, I did use barrels per day. Still, I think the values data supports my interpretation of those barrels per day. In other words, the U.S. exports a significant amount of oil and petroleum products. Even with the barrels per day analysis, petroleum coke accounts for less than 10% of those exports. In any event, I think it is misleading if you interpret the argument in the way you did — i.e. stopping exports could solve America’s energy problems.

    It can’t and won’t. On the other hand, I don’t define “energy independence” as a function of oil imports. In my view, the basic notion of “energy independence” is hopelessly ambiguous. I think the discussion needs to scrap the concept and reach for more granular concepts like security, supply and price and so forth.

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