Does the U.S. export domestic oil? If so, how much, to where and why?


Question/Comment: Does the U.S. export domestic oil? If so, how much, to where and why?

Paul Solman: U.S. oil exports are up to 1.6 million barrels a day, according to a recent Reuters report. That’s 9 percent of total refining capacity: 17.6 million barrels (abbreviated “bbl,” no one is sure why).

By contrast, we import something like 13 MMbbl (13 million barrels) daily. Main recipients of our oil exports: Mexico, Canada, Chile, Singapore and Brazil.

So why do we both import AND export? Is the fact that we export a reason not to drill off-shore on in Alaska, as some argue, since it implies that scant supply isn’t the issue?

Look, first of all, being both an importer and an exporter of what seems like the same thing is increasingly the nature of world trade. California imports strawberries from South America; California GROWS strawberries to send everywhere else. Lots of factors are involved. But the most obvious is geography.

I drill and refine oil in Montana. You’re across the border in Calgary, Canada, and I export oil to you. Your Canadian cousin drills and refines oil in Quebec. She exports to me in Maine. A lot cheaper than shipping Quebec to Calgary, Billings to Bangor. And indeed, Canada is both the biggest importer of U.S. oil AND the biggest exporter of oil TO the U.S.

There are other factors to consider: personal relationships, institutional ties, the logistics of shipping. Singapore, for example, exports huge amounts of Asian goods to the U.S. When the ships have to go back to Singapore, we might as well put SOMETHING in them.

Okay, I take your point: not oil. In fact, one in three of those container “boxes” you see on TV of ships unloading, when it leaves the U.S., contains recycled PAPER — look here for graphic footage.

But you get my point, I hope.

Why an INCREASE in oil exports recently?
Well, some U.S. oil doesn’t meet U.S. clean air requirements, it seems. And U.S. demand is down due to high prices and a weak American economy, while there’s growth elsewhere.

But to show you how hard it is to pin down an answer, one reason being given is that “China has switched to diesel from coal to run some of its generating facilities in order to reduce smog” for the Olympics.