Hey OPEC, the World's Largest Oil Consumer Needs a Lot Less Oil

  • Weekly net crude and products imports fall to record low: EIA
  • U.S. gasoline exports, oil production both rise to new highs

OPEC's Battle With U.S. Shale Nears Day of Reckoning

The U.S. has a message for oil producers poised to make a key decision on crude output on Thursday: The world’s biggest oil consumer doesn’t really need you that much anymore.

U.S. net oil imports, including crude and refined products, last week dropped to just 1.77 million barrels a day, the lowest level in data going back to 1990, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported Wednesday. That puts the country on track toward its lowest monthly imports since before the Arab oil embargo of 1973. Weekly net imports peaked in November 2005 at more than 14 million barrels a day.

Sure, the Keystone Pipeline outage has something to do with the shortfall in Canadian crude exports to the Midwest. But gasoline exports -- a stunning 1.21 million barrels a day -- eclipsed the prior record set last December.

For OPEC, which for decades counted on the U.S. market as its top client, the situation could deteriorate further as rising oil prices spur shale production from Texas to North Dakota, said Roger Diwan, a veteran OPEC watcher at consultant IHS Markit. 

“Every barrel the U.S. is able to grow now is a barrel that needs to be exported,” he said in Vienna ahead of the group’s meeting on Thursday.

U.S. oil output is only going up -- last week’s production level rose to 9.68 million barrels a day. That level could surpass 9.9 million by next month, according to consultant Rystad Energy. All factors points to more pressure on OPEC and non-OPEC producers, who are widely expected to extend production-cut agreements in this week’s meeting.

“The market is still not rebalanced, needs further joint actions after April 1. Everybody recommended to extend the agreement,” Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told reporters in Vienna Wednesday.

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