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The U.S. Oil Import Story in 5 Charts

By Aimee Duffy – Apr 13, 2013 at 9:00AM

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A closer look at what exactly the imports are, where they come from, and where they go.

You can't read the news lately without some mention of the current domestic energy boom. The U.S. is producing more oil than it has in a long time, and as a result we are importing less oil than we have in decades. Today, I'm going to take a closer look at five charts to show what it is exactly we are importing, where it comes from, where it goes, and what our energy import future really looks like.

1. Imports by type
Unless explicitly referred to as crude oil, when we read about "oil imports" the number tossed about often includes refined petroleum products such as diesel, jet fuel, and gasoline. Though the overwhelming majority of our oil imports are in fact comprised of crude oil, we do import significant quantities of refined products. In March, crude oil imports were about 7.6 million barrels per day, while products imports came to about 1.8 million barrels per day. The chart below shows the types of products and relative quantities that made up the bulk of our petroleum imports last year, not including crude oil.

Source: EIA 

2. Imports from world regions
Many politicians tout "North American" energy independence as an achievable goal in the coming years, and the chart below indicates why. As recently as March of this year, Mexico and Canada were two of our three top sources for oil imports. In fact, in January Mexico actually sent us more oil than Saudi Arabia did, the difference between imports from the two countries often comes down to volumes as small as 100 barrels per day.

Source: EIA 

You'll notice that imports from Nigeria and Angola are among the smallest slivers in this pie chart. Light sweet crude from West Africa has almost completely been replaced by light sweet crude produced domestically in places like North Dakota and South Texas.

3. Imports to U.S. regions
Our changing import story has different effects on different regions of the country. For example, the major refining center on the Gulf Coast has drastically cut imports, as evidenced by the chart below. That move makes sense: Domestic oil is cheaper, so refiners are buying that instead.

Source: EIA 

The Midwest region is increasing imports, which sounds perplexing; after all, the Midwest is home to the Bakken Shale, the source of much of U.S. production growth right now. But the Midwest also serves as a hub for Canadian crude imports, and that line on our chart will probably continue to tick upward in the future.

4. Watch out for falling imports
Last month, the EIA released a report that indicated that if everything goes according to plan, next year the U.S. will produce more oil than it imports for the first time since 1995.

Source: EIA 

5. Surging domestic production
As the chart above shows, increasing production is a big part of the decline in oil imports (energy efficiency coupled with declining demand is a big part of it as well). U.S. production has grown from approximately 5 million barrels per day in 2008, to just shy of 6.5 million barrels per day in 2012. 

Most of that oil is coming from the five top oil-producing states. The chart below shows the five-year production history of Texas, North Dakota, California, Alaska, and Oklahoma.

Source: EIA 

Texas and North Dakota have been making the news for the use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to produce shale oil, and many think that applying those techniques in other states like California could drive production up even further.

Foolish takeaway
That charts above directly impact our energy investments. For example, Valero (VLO -0.11%) and Phillips 66 (PSX -5.78%) are two refiners that have a strong presence on the Gulf Coast and can clearly benefit from buying less oil from expensive foreign sources, and they will be the first ones to check on if imports start to rise again. More Canadian crude flowing into the Midwest can mean great opportunities for refiners with operations in Toledo, like PBF Energy (PBF 1.55%), provided Canadian crude stays cheap. Taking a look at the broader scope of the U.S. import story can help us better evaluate our energy investments, and prepare us for whatever energy trends the future holds.

Motley Fool contributor Aimee Duffy has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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