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.

Last week Bloomberg created quite a stir with this story: The U.S. Just Became a Net Oil Exporter for the First Time in 75 Years. I have seen a number of follow-up stories that praised the significance of this development, but others laughed it off as misleading or incorrect.

There is some truth to both viewpoints. Yes, the headline is somewhat misleading and requires some context. But there continues to be a trend in the direction of energy independence for the U.S. So, today I want to break down the numbers so readers can understand the truth about U.S. petroleum production, consumption, and exports.

Domestic Crude Production Has Surged

The Bloomberg story is based on data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Each week the EIA publishes detailed statistics on U.S. oil production, consumption, exports, and inventories in a report called the Weekly Petroleum Status Report. So, let’s go straight to the source.

For the week ending 11/30/18, the EIA reported that the U.S. produced 11.7 million barrels per day (BPD) of crude oil. That represents a 2 million BPD increase from the year-ago number. This number is generally accepted even by those who believe the Bloomberg headline was misleading.

Further down in the report, the category of Products Supplied is listed at 20.5 million BPD. This is approximate U.S. crude oil consumption for the week. Thus, as some skeptics of the story suggested, the bottom line is that the U.S. is burning more than 20 million BPD while producing less than 12 million BPD. Thus, the conclusion for some was that the U.S. isn’t close to being energy independent.

Other Supply

But there is important context between these numbers. First, the 20.5 million BPD is a fairly accurate representation of U.S. consumption, but there is a large U.S. production number that isn’t included in the crude oil production numbers.

There is a line item called Other Supply, which consists primarily of natural gas liquids (NGLs) and fuel ethanol. This category represents a significant input to refiners in addition to the 11.7 million BPD of production (and the 4.0 million BPD of net crude oil imports). Other Supply represented 6.9 million BPD of production, and it mostly ends up as feedstock for refiners or petrochemical production. (Note that this category also includes “Refinery Processing Gain” of 1.2 million BPD, which results from refiners making products that are of a lower density than crude oil).

So, Domestic Production of crude oil plus Other Supply is equal to (11.7 + 6.9) = 18.6 million BPD — which is still about 2 million BPD less than the U.S. consumes.