No, The U.S. Is Not A Net Exporter Of Crude Oil

Bloomberg recently reported that the U.S. has become a net exporter of oil for the first time in 75 years. The truth is somewhat more complex, so I fill in the details.

Growing Exports

However, these numbers doesn’t account for exports. During that particular week, the U.S. imported 7.2 million BPD of crude oil, and exported 3.2 million BPD. Thus, net crude oil imports were 4 million BPD.

But product exports are a different story. During that week the U.S. imported 1.6 million BPD of finished products, while exporting 5.8 million BPD (which includes some ethanol and NGLs). Net U.S. exports of finished products were 4.2 million BPD. (The U.S. became a net exporter of just finished products in 2011).

The U.S. also exports crude oil. President Obama repealed the 40-year old crude oil export ban in 2015, and crude oil exports have soared since. As an aside, the reason the U.S. simultaneously imports and exports crude is that some of what we produce isn’t a good match for our domestic refineries. So we export some domestic crude and import crude that is a better match for our refineries.

Fact Check

So, here’s a summary of the important inputs to the balance that resulted in the Bloomberg claim:

  • U.S. crude oil production – 11.7 million BPD
  • Other supply (NGLs, ethanol, processing gain) – 6.9 million BPD
  • U.S. crude oil imports – 7.2 million BPD
  • U.S. crude oil exports – 3.2 million BPD
  • U.S. finished product imports – 1.6 million BPD
  • U.S. finished product exports – 5.8 million BPD
  • U.S. petroleum consumption – 20.5 million BPD

So the Bloomberg headline results from a net crude oil import number of 4.0 million BPD and a net finished product export number of 4.2 million BPD. So, indeed when you consider crude oil and finished products, for the week ending 11/30/18, the U.S. was a net exporter of 0.2 million BPD of crude plus finished products. (For perspective, this average over the previous four weeks was 2.0 million BPD of net imports).

Verdict: Remarkable Achievement, But False Headline

Significantly, this is the first time this category of weekly crude plus finished products became an export number since the EIA began reporting this information in 1991. This is a far cry from 2005, when that weekly number hit an all-time-high of 14.4 million BPD. As far as I can tell, Bloomberg is correct that this hasn’t happened in the past 75 years.

But that’s not what the headline claimed. The headline said “oil.” The U.S. is still a net importer of oil to the tune of 4.0 million BPD.

Further, total U.S. production of oil and other supply that is fed into refineries is 18.6 million BPD, while U.S. consumption is 20.5 million BPD. That still puts U.S. consumption at nearly 2.0 million BPD more than we produce. (It’s actually a little worse than that, because not all NGLs end up as refinery feedstock).

So the bottom line is that we aren’t net exporters of crude oil, and we aren’t energy independent. But, the U.S. has trended in that direction for over a decade. Regardless of whether it remains that way, this is undoubtedly a remarkable achievement. I know a lot of people — including myself — would have scoffed at such a prediction in 2005.

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