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Robert Rapier

Robert Rapier

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Did The U.S. Really Become The World’s Top Oil Producer Under Trump?

As the presidential election approaches, I am increasingly seeing claims that President Trump put the U.S. back on top as the world’s leading oil producer. So, let’s take a closer look. Here is a 2013 article announcing the U.S. as the world’s top oil producer:

China Overtakes the US to become the World’s Largest Oil Importer

You can find plenty of articles from 2013 and 2014 announcing that the U.S. had regained the position as the world’s top oil producer. So what is the basis for making the claim that President Trump put the U.S. back on top? Allow me to explain.

To support this claim, someone linked me to an article from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). That article contains a graphic that seems to show that the U.S. was approaching the top spot for petroleum in the 2013-2015 time frame (before the oil price crash), but not actually achieving that distinction until 2018.

That would seem to support the claim, but there are two things to note here about that graphic. First, the graphic isn’t reporting barrels of petroleum. It is reporting energy content. When we talk about how much oil Saudi Arabia produces, we talk about barrels. Nobody says that Saudi Arabia produces 25 quadrillion British thermal units of petroleum.

Related: Oil Majors Hit Hard By Canada's Energy Stock Selloff Second, it is important to note how petroleum is being defined. Crude oil is one category of petroleum. Another is “condensate.” This refers to light liquid hydrocarbons that are recovered from natural gas that is often associated with oil production. These liquids are mostly pentane and heavier hydrocarbons, and they are added to crude oil at some stage of processing (which could be the refining stage).

The final category is “natural gas liquids”, or NGLs. These are lighter hydrocarbons in natural gas that are separated as liquids at natural gas processing plants. Natural gas liquids include ethane, propane, normal butane, and isobutane. Some fraction of NGLs end up being refined with crude oil and blended into finished products like gasoline.

The footnote in the graphic above indicates they are including all of these categories in the definition of petroleum. But condensate and NGLs have lower energy content than crude oil. Thus, comparing Saudi Arabia, the U.S., and Russia on the basis of energy instead of barrels gives a different answer, because Saudi Arabia and Russia produce significantly fewer NGLs than the U.S.

If you look at U.S. production in terms of barrels, in 2015 the U.S. produced 9.4 million barrels per day (BPD) of crude oil, versus Russia’s 10.8 million barrels and Saudi Arabia’s 10.4 million barrels. But the U.S. also produced 3.3 million BPD of NGLs in 2015, versus 249,000 BPD for Russia and 1.6 million BPD for Saudi Arabia. Thus, in terms of barrels of what the EIA defines as petroleum above, the U.S. was already in first place in 2015. In fact, we had achieved that distinction some time in 2013 as the Daily Mail article suggested.

But let’s cut to the bottom line. U.S. oil production had turned sharply upward in 2009, President Obama’s first year in office. Natural gas production had turned upward a few years prior. Oil production had the largest gain under President Obama of any president, nearly doubling during his tenure.

Related: Libya’s Oil Production Jumps To 300,000 Bpd As Exports Rise 

Following strong gains from 2009 to 2014, oil production briefly dipped when prices crashed before resumed the climb on the same trajectory. In 2017 and 2018 oil production was increasing in the U.S. under President Trump at about the same speed it did under President Obama (albeit at a lower growth rate, because the overall volumes were greater).

Who then is responsible for what was — at least before the Covid-19 pandemic — the highest oil and natural gas production in U.S. history? President Obama? President Bush? President Trump?

None of the above. The person most responsible is the late George Mitchell, who is generally considering the “Father of Fracking.” It was hydraulic fracturing that enabled the enormous growth rates of oil and natural gas production over the past 15 years. Who was president was largely irrelevant. Hence, we see oil production ironically decline under President Bush and surge under President Obama.

Different presidents would have passed different policies that could make some small impact on overall production, but those would have been dwarfed by the impact due to fracking. Giving credit to any president misses the most fundamental underlying reason for the gains in U.S. oil and natural gas production.

By Robert Rapier

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  • George Doolittle on October 07 2020 said:
    The USA has been the World's largest energy producer for 150 straight Years if not longer. As far as oil production once one includes Canada and Mexico there has never been nowhere near a 2nd place for that for over 80 Years continuous as well. What seems to have changed is the importance of coal and oil to the US economy and a continued shift towards natural gas continues to roll on and absolutely very much helped out by the Trump Administration. This hardly makes oil or coal "worthless" in any way with in fact quite the opposite being true (look at how much a gallon of gasoline costs despite no one really needing the product anymore in the USA.) Finding a well run energy Company at the moment is indeed a challenge tho I would agree with that. It's not like there are Government run oil Companies in the USA nor is there a need for that.
  • Mamdouh Salameh on October 08 2020 said:
    The United States was never ever the world’s top crude oil producer. This myth started when the 2015 issue of BP Statistical Review claimed that the United States has overtaken both Saudi Arabia and Russia in 2014 to emerge as the world’s top crude oil producer with an average daily production of 11.64 million barrels a day (mbd) in comparison with 11.51 mbd for Saudi Arabia and 10.84 mbd for Russia.

    It turned out that BP’s claim was not only inaccurate and misleading but also false as
    BP includes condensates and natural gas liquids (NGLs) which come from natural gas wells as well as such gases as ethane, propane, butane and pentanes which don’t qualify as crude oil in its crude oil count.

    These liquids are useful, but they are not oil and only displace oil in a minor way. Moreover, their energy content is around 65% that of crude oil and so counting barrels of natural gas plant liquids as equivalent to oil is doubly misleading.

    The real question is whether natural gas plant liquids can be sold as oil on the world market. The answer is a resounding “No”. In fact, major oil exchanges accept neither natural gas plant liquids nor lease condensates as satisfactory delivery for crude oil. And if major exchanges don’t accept natural gas liquids as crude oil, then they are not crude oil. In fact OPEC doesn’t consider condensates as crude oil and that is why it exempted Russia’s production of condensates when it allocated Russia’s share of the OPEC+ production cuts.

    US oil production includes some 4.345 mbd of condensate and NGLs according to BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

    Based on the above analysis, the United States has never ever been the top crude oil producer. Russia was the one who occupies that rank followed by Saudi Arabia and America.

    In fact, part of the US shale oil industry’s near collapse and bankruptcy is the Trump administration’s pressure on it to produce recklessly even at a loss to achieve political slogans of “US energy dominance”, “energy independence” and “top oil producer “, thus saddling it with billions of dollars of debts it can’t repay. In the final analysis, economics always trumps politics.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London

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