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Saudis Win Share of Shrinking U.S. Oil Imports: Chart of the Day

Saudi Arabia is shipping the most oil to the U.S. since 2008 even as the world’s largest consumer cuts total imports in a drive toward energy independence.

The CHART OF THE DAY shows how U.S. crude purchases are declining while the percentage of cargoes from OPEC’s biggest producer increases. Imports averaged 8.7 million barrels a day this year, on course for the lowest since 1997, according to Energy Department data. Saudi Arabia accounted for about 17 percent, up from 13 percent a year earlier, the data show.

A glut of natural gas, increased fuel efficiency in cars and the highest domestic oil production since 1999 are reducing America’s reliance on energy imports just as Saudi Arabia boosts output to compensate for Middle East supply disruptions. The desert kingdom, pumping the most since 1980, is supplying Motiva Enterprises LLC’s expanded refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, that processes the heavy grades Saudi Arabia produces.

“You shouldn’t look at this as the U.S. being more dependent on Saudi Arabia,” Robin Mills, head of consulting at Dubai-based Manaar Energy Consulting and Project Management and a former Middle East specialist at Royal Dutch Shell Plc, said by phone today. “There can be local issues to do with refining logistics so that the U.S. does need some Saudi oil for now.”

U.S. oil consumption will decline 0.9 percent this year to 18.7 million barrels a day, the International Energy Agency estimates. Cars and light trucks will increase fuel economy 40 percent to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016 under federal rules issued in 2010. Natural gas futures traded in New York plunged 31 percent in the past year to $2.715 per million British thermal units. Domestic crude production is 2.9 percent below the 13-year high reached in July, Energy Department data show.

Saudi Arabia boosted production as much as 2 percent this year to 9.9 million barrels a day in May, the most since 1980, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The Motiva refinery, a joint venture of units of Saudi Arabian Oil Co. and Shell that doubled capacity to more than 600,000 barrels a day, will process heavy grades from Saudi Arabia, Peter Voser, Shell’s chief executive officer, said in May.

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