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De-constructing the WSJ's front page story, “U.S. nears milestone: net fuel exporter”

On November 30, the front page of the Wall Street Journal carried what seemed to be an story U.S. Nears Milestone: Net Fuel Exporter by Liam Pleven and Russell Gold. It begins:

U.S. exports of gasoline, diesel and other oil-based fuels are soaring, putting the nation on track to be a net exporter of petroleum products in 2011 for the first time in 62 years.

A combination of booming demand from emerging markets and faltering domestic activity means the U.S. is exporting more fuel than it imports, upending the historical norm.

According to data released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration on Tuesday, the U.S. sent abroad 753.4 million barrels of everything from gasoline to jet fuel in the first nine months of this year, while it imported 689.4 million barrels.

[the rest of the article is behind a paywall]

For 2011, it appears that the US is on track to be net exporter of refined petroleum products, on the order of about 0.2 mbpd. Although the WSJ reporters did note, several paragraphs into the story, that the US remains the world’s largest net oil importer, in both terms of crude oil and total petroleum liquids, I suspect that many casual readers will conclude that the US is now a net oil exporter.

We have of course seen increasing US oil (and gas) production. If we look at the pre-hurricane production data in 2004, versus 2010, US total petroleum liquids production rose from 7.2 mbpd in 2004 to 7.5 mbpd in 2010, an increase of 0.3 mbpd (BP). Note that BP does not count biofuels and refinery gains in the production numbers.

Over the same time frame, 2004 to 2010, US consumption fell from 20.7 mbpd to 19.1 mbpd, a decline of 1.6 mbpd. Based on the BP data, US net oil imports fell from 13.5 mbpd in 2004 to 11.6 mbpd in 2010, a decline of 1.9 mbpd. Declining consumption resulted in 84% of the 2004 to 2010 decline in US net oil imports.

Therefore, the primary contributor to the US becoming a net exporter of refined products and the primary contributor to the decline in US net oil imports is declining consumption in the US, as the US and many other developed countries have been forced, post-2005, to take a declining share of a falling volume of Global Net Exports (GNE), which are calculated in terms of Total Petroleum Liquids.

So, the WSJ reporters are taking a symptom of Peak Exports, i.e., declining US oil consumption, and presenting it as a positive story.

I define Available Net Exports (ANE) as GNE less Chindia's combined net oil imports. At the 2005 to 2010 rate of increase in Chindia's net imports as a percentage of of GNE, the Chindia region would consume 100% of GNE in only 19 years.

There are apparently 196 countries in the world. If we assume about a half dozen inconsequential net oil exporters, in addition to the top 33 net oil exporters that we studied, that leaves about 157 net oil importing countries. So, if we extrapolate current trends, just two of these net oil importers, China & India, would consume 100% of the global supply of (net) exported oil in only 19 years, leaving nothing for the other 155 current net oil importing countries.

I continue to be mystified that this factual statement is not the #1 story in the world.

Here is an interesting comment from a blogger on The Oil Drum (tye454):

. . . the government and banks are going to pull every trick or lie or cheat that they're able to, because the alternative is their very own destruction.

I suspect that this is one of the primary reasons that we will probably never get most government officials, members of the MSM, etc. to actually acknowledge the reality of Peak Oil/Peak Exports. It is of course related to the famous Upton Sinclair quote, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it."

I think that we are seeing cognitive dissonance on a global scale. Government officials, the MSM etc. generally refuse to acknowledge resource limits. It's as if, once the Titanic hit the iceberg, the officers resumed the voyage, and ignored reports of flooding.

Here is a chart showing showing US oil, natural gas and coal consumption (C) and production (P) numbers for 1998 to 2010, along with the C/P ratios (BP data), which I think illustrate the challenges we face in trying to achieve “Energy Independence.”

Note that the US was a net coal importer in 2003.

(Excel file showing the same data)

Editorial Notes: Jeffrey J. Brown is an independent petroleum geologist in the Dallas, Texas area. He was recently named to the ASPO-USA board of directors and has been a frequent contributor to Energy Bulletin and The Oil Drum. His website is GraphOilogy. -BA

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