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The United States has stepped up heavy crude oil imports, with the May volumes hitting the highest in two years, according to customs data cited by Reuters.
The ramp-up in imports comes amid rising demand for fuels during driving season and calls by President Biden on refiners to crank up their output of gasoline and diesel as prices at the pump continue relentlessly up.
"We have healthy demand, low products inventories, and strained refining capacity," Corey Stewart, senior energy analyst at Refinitiv, told Reuters. "Refiners are looking to bring feedstocks into the U.S. to most economically meet what products the markets demand," he added.
President Biden recently slammed refiners for profiting while drivers suffered a heavier gasoline bill burden and urged them to produce more fuels. "At a time of war, refinery profit margins well above normal being passed directly onto American families are not acceptable," the President wrote in a letter to the biggest refiners in the country.
Earlier this week, the White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the President was also willing to use the Defense Production Act to ramp up the supply of gasoline and diesel for the domestic market.
"Already, the President has demonstrated his willingness to use that emergency powers to lower costs for families," Jean-Pierre said, adding. "We're saying that the President has used it before and he's willing to do that again."
In addition to invoking the Defense Production Act, the Biden administration is also considering putting limits on fuel exports in a bid to put a lid on domestic fuel prices.
U.S. refiners imported 33.5 million barrels of heavy crude last month, Reuters reported, noting that heavy crude, while cheaper than the local light varieties, also had higher fuel yields. Refining margins have hit a record of over $62.50 per barrel.
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
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Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com