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Key landmark for US shale boom: Net exporter

RFI 2018-12-07 07:19:10
Rising production from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota and other shale has enabled the United States to become a net exporter of crude oil and petroleum products AFP/File

For the first time in decades, the United States last week was a net exporter of crude oil and petroleum products.

That distinction -- revealed in US Energy Information Administration data released Thursday -- is the latest sign of how the shale boom has lifted the United States's standing on global petroleum markets, prompting talk of "energy dominance" by President Donald Trump.

It's quite a change from the situation that defined American energy for decades after the 1970s oil shocks led to a US ban on oil exports in 1975. The US reversed the policy in late 2015.

New petroleum recovery techniques such as hydraulic fracturing, leading to major new oil production in North Dakota, Texas, Pennsylvania and other states.

The US currently pumps out 11.7 million barrels per day of crude, making it competitive with the largest global oil producers, including Saudi Arabia and Russia.

- Strong refining network -

According to Thursday's EIA data, the US exported 3.2 million barrels of crude per day and 5.85 million barrels per day of refined products for the week ending November 30.

During the same period, imports of crude were 7.22 million barrels per day and refined products were 1.62 million barrels per day.

Together, the two streams mean the US was a net exporter by 211,000 barrels last week, the data show -- the first time it has reached that distinction since the EIA began collecting data in 1973.

Analysts do not necessarily expect the US to remain a net exporter every week, but the shale boom has undeniably altered the picture of American energy.

"With the US oil production growing, with the continued growth in refined product exports, we knew that was going to happen eventually," said Kyle Cooper of IAF Advisors.

Beyond the surge in exploration and production of crude, the United States also benefits from a robust network of petroleum refineries.

"You continue to see the refineries run at very high rates as a result of the billions of dollars of investments made many years ago in highly specialized units that are very efficient at turning crude into refined products," Cooper said.

Other supportive elements of US refining include comparatively cheap crude oil and lower prices on natural gas and electricity that fuel the plants.

Profit margins for US refineries "are just better than their global competitors," Cooper said.

- Response from OPEC? -

The US petroleum boom has also transformed the landscape for other major crude producers, who currently face pressure due to a big slide in oil prices this fall, in part due to robust American output.

Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, led by Saudi Arabia and in concert with non-member Russia, are meeting in Vienna to try to hash out a deal Friday to cut output.

OPEC members were unable to reach agreement on Thursday and scrapped a planned news conference.

Trump weighed in on the proceedings on Twitter, reiterating a call to keep pumping generously.

"Hopefully OPEC will be keeping oil flows as is, not restricted. The World does not want to see, or need, higher oil prices!" said Trump, who has repeatedly accused the cartel of keeping prices artificially high.

OPEC ministers reacted to Trump's intervention by telling him not to interfere.

"We don't need permission from anyone to cut," said Saudi energy minister Khalid Al-Falih.