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U.S. briefly became net petroleum importer this year

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The United States briefly returned to being a net importer of crude oil and petroleum products in May and June this year, as U.S. crude oil and refinery output slumped at the start of the pandemic, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Tuesday.

The decline in U.S. crude oil production and the lower refinery runs resulted in a decline in America’s gross crude oil and petroleum product exports.

The U.S. was a net petroleum exporter between October 2019 and April 2020, but then it was briefly a net petroleum importer in May and June because of the lower domestic crude oil and refined products output.

U.S. net petroleum imports averaged 939,000 barrels per day (bpd) in May and 675,000 bpd in June. On an annual basis, U.S. net imports of petroleum dropped from a high of 12.5 million bpd in 2005 to 700,000 bpd last year, according to EIA data.

U.S. gross exports of petroleum products fell for three consecutive months, from a record high of 6.3 million bpd in February to 3.9 million bpd in May. This was the main factor in the overall shift in U.S. petroleum trade from net exports to net imports in May and June. Since then, gross petroleum product exports rose to 5.1 million bpd in September, according to the latest available figures.

In April, consumption of petroleum products in the world’s top oil consumer, the United States, slumped to its lowest level in decades, as lockdowns restricted travel and the economy slowed.

Refiners across the U.S. were cutting refinery runs  after the plunge in prices and demand in early March. Refinery utilization rates dipped to below 70 percent in April—levels not seen in more than a decade. At the same time, U.S. oil producers curtailed  some production as the oversupply persisted, storage filled up fast, and oil prices plummeted to unsustainable levels for the U.S. shale patch.

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