Yesterday’s Weekly Petroleum Status Report from the Energy Information Administration included an eye-popping statistic: 5 million barrels a day of crude oil were exported from the U.S. in the week ended August 12. It’s the highest U.S. export volume ever reported — and by a margin of nearly half a million barrels a day! But as huge as that top-line number is, and as many headlines as it’s sure to grab, it's not unexpected. Major changes in international crude markets, coupled with tectonic shifts in North American upstream and midstream, have conspired to push U.S. exports higher and higher. In today’s RBN blog, we examine the factors leading up to this point and what it means for crude markets in the U.S. and abroad.
We’ll start by tempering the news somewhat. As significant as 5 MMb/d is, it's important to note that the prior week’s reported exports were an underwhelming 2.1 MMb/d. As shown by the blue line in Figure 1, below, the crude oil export figures reported by the EIA tend to bounce around a lot from week to week — some weeks Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) and other vessels might be counted just before or after the weekly cutoff time. An additional variable that ought to be considered when looking at the weekly figures is what the EIA calls “unaccounted for” crude volumes in their weekly statistics that balance out the difference between supply, demand and inventory change (see One Piece At A Time for how that math works). So looking at a four-week moving average (green line) gives a much clearer sense of how exports have been trending — so far this summer they've averaged around 3.4 MMb/d, their highest level since just before COVID hit in early 2020.
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