62-year milestone: Fuel tops list of U.S. exports
For the first time, the top export of the United States, the world's biggest gas guzzler, is ... fuel.
The Associated Press
Top U.S. exports
The top U.S. exports, measured in dollars, for the past five years, according to U.S. Census records.
2011 (through October)
1. Fuel: $73.4 billion.
2. Aircraft: $70.8 billion.
3. Motor vehicles: $39.6 billion.
4. Vacuum tubes: $37.1 billion.
5. Telecommunications equipment: $33.2 billion.
1. Aircraft: $79.2 billion.
2. Fuel: $53.7 billion.
3. Vacuum tubes: $47.3 billion.
4. Motor vehicles: $39.3 billion.
5. Telecommunications equipment: $35.3 billion.
1. Aircraft: $82.9 billion.
2. Vacuum tubes: $37.7 billion.
3. Fuel: $36.5 billion.
4. Telecommunications equipment: $30.8 billion.
5. Motor vehicles: $28.4 billion.
1. Aircraft: $72 billion.
2. Fuel: $51.8 billion.
3. Motor vehicles: $50.7 billion.
4. Vacuum tubes: $50.6 billion.
5. Telecommunications equipment: $35.4 billion.
1. Aircraft: $75.9 billion.
2. Vacuum tubes: $50.2 billion.
3. Motor vehicles: $44.8 billion.
4. Vehicle parts: $$35.1 billion.
5. Telecommunications equipment: $32.4 billion.
U.S. Census Bureau
NEW YORK — For the first time, the top export of the United States, the world's biggest gas guzzler, is ... fuel.
Measured in dollars, the nation, through October, shipped more gasoline, diesel and jet fuel than any other single export, according to U.S. Census data going back to 1990. It was also the first year in more than 60 that the United States was expected to be a net exporter of these fuels.
A decade ago, fuel wasn't even among the top 25 exports. And for the past five years, the nation's top export was aircraft.
The trend is significant because for decades the U.S. has relied on huge imports of fuel from Europe to meet demand, reinforcing the image of America as an energy hog.
Until a few years ago, whenever gasoline prices climbed, there were complaints in Congress that U.S. refiners were not growing quickly enough to satisfy domestic demand. That controversy may be over.
Nonetheless, the U.S. is nowhere near energy independence. It remains the world's largest importer of crude oil. From January to October, the country imported 2.7 billion barrels of oil worth roughly $280 billion.
Fuel exports, expected to reach $88 billion in 2011, have surged for two reasons:
• Crude oil, the raw material from which gasoline and other refined products are made, is a lot more expensive. Oil prices averaged $95 a barrel in 2011, while gasoline averaged $3.52 a gallon, a record. A decade ago, oil averaged $26 a barrel, while gasoline averaged $1.44 a gallon.
• The volume of fuel exports is rising. The U.S. is using less fuel because of a weak economy and more-efficient cars and trucks. That allows refiners to sell more fuel to rapidly growing economies in Latin America, for example. In 2011, U.S. refiners exported 117 million gallons a day of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other petroleum products, up from 40 million gallons a day a decade earlier.
There's at least one domestic downside to the nation's growing role as a fuel exporter. Experts say the trend helps explain why U.S. motorists are paying more for gasoline. The more fuel that's sent overseas, the less there is at home.
The trend was predicted as early as last January, when two analysts with the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration delivered a presentation to the 2011 Argus Americas Crude Summit in Houston.
Joanne Shore, lead operations-research analyst at the Energy Information Administration, and colleague John Hackworth said that U.S. refineries had found thriving and lucrative markets overseas for their products, even as they were shutting down domestic facilities because of low demand.
Indeed, gasoline supplies are being exported to the highest bidder, says Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service. "It's a world market," he says.
Refining companies won't say how much they make by selling fuel overseas. But analysts say those sales likely are generating higher profits per gallon than the fuel sold in the U.S.
Developing countries in Latin America and Asia have been burning more gasoline and diesel as people buy more cars and build more roads and factories. Europe also has been buying more U.S. fuel to make up for its lack of refineries.
The last time the U.S. was a net exporter of fuels was 1949, when Harry Truman was president. That year, the U.S. exported 86 million barrels and imported 82 million barrels. In the first 10 months of 2011, the nation exported 848 million barrels (worth $73.4 billion) and imported 750 million barrels.
Material from the Los Angeles Times is included in this report.
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