US Petroleum Exports are Huge

On March 7, last week, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released a short report that showed that in 2011, U.S. petroleum exports exceeded imports for the first time since 1949. That was their headline.  The data in this report are that, last year – 2011,  the U.S. had 51% of its total petroleum production for the year sold abroad.  This includes both crude oil and petroleum distillates such as gasoline and kerosene.

In this post we look at the implications shining through the time sequenced export data. Looking at these data may not sound like usual fun, but this report is not fun at all though  not for the usual data-wonk reasons


This graph shows the main data set ( directly from the EIA report). The units are Millions of barrels per day (M bpd).   U.S. demand has always been greater than production since at least the early 1930’s (ref: Footprints2) and the U.S. had to import oil to make up the difference.  It is interesting that we exported a bit throughout this time but never more than 6% of production.

Export_tblHere is my summary table of the export graph.  I used the tabulated Production from the EIA and my own digitization of the export data from the graph.

Looks strange, no?  Before peak oil (1970) when we had plenty, we exported a small fraction.  Around the peak, exports dropped back to the post-War values.  Starting in 1999 through 2011, the percent of our total petroleum production skyrocketed from a large 14% of production to an unbelievable 51% of domestic production of petroleum.

What these data say is that the ultra’s who control the oil industry are not conserving our precious oil for our energy security but are selling it off for personal, family enrichment.  We are being lied to, by politicians both left and right, and by popular sluts like Rush Limbaugh who lead the deception effort.

I have no idea what has pushed exports into their biggest boost phase (starting in 2005).  But last year, the U.S.  started draining its Strategic Petroleum Reserve.  LastTechAge posted several posts on this.  It turns out that the only method to legally release this stuff is through international agreements where multiple nations also do releases.  BUT, during last year’s release, only the U.S. put fluid on the export market.  All other signatories substituted ‘in-kind’ efforts for actual petroleum. I apologize for the anger, but I get huffy about such things.

Bad as the SPR runaround was, it was too small an effect to account for very much of the nearly 2.9 M bpd exports (U.S. production was about 5.6 M bpd).  These data indicate an all out-grab for huge wealth at the expense of the country, much more than the political attempts meant to reduce home petroleum prices.  In fact, the two processes have opposite effects on home gasoline prices.  Putting SPR oil on the market will reduce Brent Market pricing; removing oil from our own use forces more imports and raise prices.  But in both situations, those who own the oil industry benefit.

click for all our discussions about oil reserves

This puts the final lid on the can holding the Keystone XL arguments, too.  The pipeline company, TransCanada Ltd, has started a campaign saying that of course they do not want to sell their tar-sands crude abroad.  They want to ship to the Gulf coast for the nice refineries there, not for the oil tankers that accidentally dock very close by. This issue is enough of a resource destroyer that LastTechAge posted 4 separate discussions on it.  Here is the latest.   There are American ultras involved in TransCanada, too, though.

The data are not enough to determine who and why recent rocket assent in attacks on our petroleum reserves.  Our Footnotes series are meant to show only how and when things went wrong.  This note is a follow-up on Footprints2, which can only summarize the status of US oil.

Update 2012 Mar 20: This post, Exports are Huge has been updated by Exports Skyrocket that has the graphical data behind the Export mess.  In the intervening week, EIA took their report off the air but did replace it; Skyrocket also gives more detail on it.


Charles J. Armentrout, Ann Arbor
2012 Mar 13
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Listed under    Natural Resources   …thread  Natural Resourses >   Oil
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About LastTechAge

I am a physicist with years of work in fusion labs, industry labs, and teaching (physics and math). I have watched the tech scene, watched societal trends and am alarmed. My interest is to help us all improve or maintain that which we worked so hard to achieve.
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