Shale Revolution Reverses Global Energy Flow

  • Date: 10/04/14
  • John Kemp, Reuters

The United States has replaced OPEC as the marginal petroleum supplier to the world thanks to the shale revolution and improvements in automotive fuel efficiency.

Net U.S. imports of crude and products have halved over the last five years, or by an amount equivalent to the entire daily crude exports of Saudi Arabia.

Net imports totalled 5.2 million barrels per day at the start of 2014, down from 11.2 million at the beginning of 2009, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Not one barrel of U.S. shale oil has been sent overseas (except small quantities to Canada) because of the long-standing ban on crude petroleum exports.

But increased U.S. production is still playing a role on global markets via a reduction in its crude imports and increased exports of refined products such as gasoline and especially diesel.

 GRAPHIC: Shale revolution alters global energy flows

U.S. refiners and traders are successfully arbitraging around the ban by replacing imports of foreign crude with cheaper domestic oil and turning domestic crude that cannot be exported into refined products that can.

Total imports of crude and products shrank to an average of 9.8 million barrels per day in 2013 from a peak of 13.7 million in 2005.

Over the same period, product exports climbed to 3.6 million barrels per day from 1.1 million. Diesel exports doubled, while exports of gasoline, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and petroleum coke all recorded big increases.

REVERSED FLOWS

The big three suppliers of crude to the United States – Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia – all maintained their sales volumes, according to a recent briefing paper published by the EIA (“U.S. crude oil imports fall but share of top three suppliers highest in four decades” Apr 4).

But imports from other countries in the Middle East, West Africa and Latin America have been squeezed hard, forcing them to turn to alternative markets in Asia.

And on the products side, the United States has sharply cut gasoline imports from Europe and emerged as a major diesel and LPG supplier to countries in Latin America and further afield.

The North American energy revolution and rapid industrialisation in Asia have effectively reversed the flow of energy round the globe. For most of the 20th century, the primary flow was from East to West. Now the main flow is from West to East.

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