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The OPEC+ production cuts, lower overall oil demand, and declining demand for foreign-sourced lighter crudes resulted in 2020 in the lowest annual American crude oil imports from OPEC in data going back to 1973, the Energy Information Administration’s ‘This Week in Petroleum’ note showed.
Last year, U.S. crude oil imports from OPEC producers averaged just 816,000 barrels per day (bpd), the EIA has estimated. The OPEC+ production cuts and the deliberate efforts from Saudi Arabia to reduce shipments to the most transparent market, the United States, played a role in last year’s record-low American oil imports from OPEC.
The other key reason was that the surging U.S. oil production in recent years—which made America the world’s top oil producer—was mostly of light and medium grades, so demand for such grades from OPEC or elsewhere in the world has significantly dropped since 2005.
While oil imports from OPEC hit the lowest on record, U.S. purchases of Canada’s heavy crude have grown and continue to remain high, the EIA data showed.
American imports from non-OPEC members, especially from Canada, have remained relatively high despite soaring domestic oil output, because of the heavy variety of Canada’s oil which the U.S. shale patch doesn’t produce.
Between 2005 and 2020, U.S. crude oil imports from Canada more than doubled to an average of 3.6 million bpd. As a result, Canada’s share of total U.S. crude oil imports increased and reached a record-high share of 61 percent last year, the EIA said.
“The comparatively stable U.S. crude oil imports from Canada are mostly the result of longer-term trends in Canada’s crude oil production and refining economics,” the EIA said.
Total American crude oil imports have dropped by 42 percent since their peak in 2005, and averaged 5.9 million bpd in 2020, the lowest level since 1991, according to EIA’s data.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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The second reason is that OPEC members particularly Saudi Arabia are deliberately reducing their exports to the United States since they end up augmenting US oil inventories and being used to depress oil prices.
Without fail, the minute crude oil prices start to rise, either the American Petroleum Institute (API) or the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) or both announce a build in crude oil or product inventories aimed at depressing prices. This pattern has become so regular that despite the best will in the world one can only reach the conclusion that it is a manipulation of the oil prices.
If, however, the NOPEC bill, officially referred to as the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels (NOPEC) Act of 2021 becomes a law, OPEC members could stop their oil exports to the US altogether. NOPEC has only jurisdiction in the United States but no extraterritorial jurisdiction under international law.
If, however, the United States persists with mounting law suits against OPEC or its members, then they could retaliate by withdrawing their investments and funds in the US and even threaten to replace the petrodollar with the petro-yuan in their oil transactions. That would be the biggest ever retaliation against the US.
Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
International Oil Economist
Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London