The American Oil Trade Deficit Has Never Been Lower

Shale oil production in rural North Dakota. Photographer: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The most recent trade data reveal some pretty astonishing figures about the U.S. shale boom and how quickly it has cut demand for foreign crude. Total petroleum imports fell to $23 billion, the lowest level since August 2009. Considering the recent crash in oil prices, that would have fallen anyway even if volumes had stayed the same.

Still, the physical amount of oil being imported is falling fast. In November, the U.S. brought in 6.2 million barrels a day—down 11 percent from the same time last year and a 22 percent decline from November 2012. The 189 million barrels of foreign crude oil the U.S. bought in November were the fewest since February 1994.

The U.S. is importing 22 percent fewer barrels of oil since 2012

Although the U.S. now produces more oil than it imports, it’s still a net importer of crude. In current dollar terms, the November oil trade deficit was $11.4 billion, the lowest since 2003.

As trade watcher Alan Tonelson points out, the numbers get even more interesting when they’re adjusted for inflation, which eliminates the effect of falling prices. The real oil trade deficit for November was $7.5 billion, the lowest since the data began to be compiled in 1994. If December comes in anywhere near November’s level, then the U.S. will have cut its annual oil trade deficit by almost 60 percent since 2005, when it peaked at $273 billion.

Imports and exports have pretty much moved in the opposite direction over the past six years. Since the U.S. technically can’t export crude under the ban passed in the 1970s, a lot of the new shale oil leaves the country as things like diesel and jet fuel. In 2014, the U.S. probably exported more than $90 billion of petroleum (we only have data through November), up from $42 billion in 2008.

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