U.S. now exporting more fuel than it imports (yep, you read that right)

Considering all the desperate calls for the U.S. to weaken environmental standards and to make other moves to encourage oil exploration, it comes as a surprise to many — including me — that the U.S. is now exporting more fuel than it is importing.

From the WSJ’s U.S. Nears Milestone: Net Fuel Exporter, published on 11/30:

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.

Still, the U.S. remains the world’s single largest importer of crude oil. From the WSJ:

So long as the U.S. remains the world’s biggest net importer of crude oil, currently taking in nine million barrels per day, it isn’t likely to become energy independent anytime soon. Yet its growing presence as an overall exporter of fuels made from crude gives it greater influence in the global energy market.

The San Francisco Chronicle on the differences in trade of crude vs. refined oil:

The United States, long the world’s most voracious consumer of fuel, still imports almost half of its crude oil, the raw material for gasoline and diesel. But starting in 2008, the country began exporting more refined petroleum products than it imported. And the gap keeps growing.

In the first nine months of this year, the United States exported 655 million barrels of finished petroleum products, including 121 million barrels of gasoline. At the same time, the country imported 264 million barrels of finished petroleum products, including 32 million barrels of gasoline, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In terms of U.S. demand, I’ll repost a graph from Calculated Risk that clearly shows the decline in total miles driven over the last few years:

Here’s the graphic accompanying the WSJ article:

CNN has a piece here: Gasoline: The new big U.S. export

So why not limit exports of gasoline to drive prices down?

As long as we still are a net importer of crude and as long as we see ourselves as a proponent of global capitalism and trade, the U.S. can’t really step in and limit trade or impose tariffs.

But we have a new paradigm here — one that seems likely to serve the U.S. well in its dealings with other countries.