In its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook for February 2022, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has predicted that the United States will return to being a net importer of petroleum this year.
As the name suggests, a net importer is a country that sees more of a commodity imported in than it exports. While the US is one of the world’s biggest producers of crude oil, it is also the world’s biggest consumer, so it has historically been a net importer.
Nevertheless, the EIA said in a blog post that in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated restrictions:
“Caused a drop in oil demand within the United States and internationally. International petroleum prices decreased in response to less consumption, which diminished incentives for key petroleum-exporting countries to increase production. This shift allowed the United States to export more petroleum in 2020 than it had in the past.”
While the country continued to be a net exporter in 2021, economic growth created more demand for oil products. Some US producers like Chevron and ExxonMobil – which make the Texaco and Mobil lubricant products, respectively – have indicated plans to increase their US-based production, but many other shale operators have prioritised shareholder returns over production growth. Further rises in economic activity are therefore expected to drive the demand for more imports.
While the US has consistently been a net importer of crude oil over the past two decades, it has been a net exporter of refined petroleum products, such as hydrocarbon gas liquids and distillate fuel oil, since 2010.