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EIA: U.S. crude output tops net crude imports for first time since 1996

NEW YORK -- U.S. crude oil output surged 15.3% year-on-year in February, exceeding net imports of crude oil for the first time since 1996, government data show.

The dramatic shift in where the world' s biggest oil consumer gets its crude came 10 months earlier than had been projected by the Energy Information Administration, as domestic output hit a 21-year high of 7.177 million barrels a day on increased flows from shale-oil fields.

At the same time, U.S. crude-oil imports dropped 15.1% from February 2012, to 7.27 MMbopd, the lowest level since March 1996.

While the U.S. imported the most crude oil ever from Canada in any month, through a quirk of the rapidly changing domestic-supply scene, the U.S. also exported a record 124,000 bopd of crude to Canada. Rising U.S. oil output is in many areas taxing logistics, resulting in broad moves to increase crude-oil shipments via trucks and trains, as well as established pipelines. In some areas, analysts said, the most efficient route to market is into Canada.

Reflecting moves by U.S. refiners to substitute Canadian crude oil for supplies from Mexico and Venezuela, crude-oil imports from Canada jumped 11.8% from a year earlier, to a record-high 2.815 MMbopd.

That' s the highest volume of crude ever shipped to the U.S. in any month from a single nation, EIA data show. Canada, the biggest source of U.S. crude imports since March 2006, accounted for 38.7% of U.S. total crude imports, the most ever by a single nation, EIA figures show.

The crude oil export flow to Canada, modest in the grand scheme of supply, was the biggest total U.S. export volume since April 2000 and was enough to reduce net U.S. crude oil imports to 7.146 million barrels a day, the lowest level since March 1996. Thus domestic crude oil output of 7.177 MMbopd topped net imports by 31,000 MMbopd. As recently as July 2011, net crude imports topped domestic output by nearly 3.8 MMbopd.

Amid a heavy seasonal maintenance program, U.S. refiners cut crude-oil input by 2.8% from a year earlier, to 14.246 MMbopd in February. That was the lowest level since April 2011. Rising domestic output and reduced runs meant that domestic production was equal to 50.4% of the volume of crude processed by refiners in the month, compared with 42.5% a year earlier.

Domestic output equated to more than half of the nation' s crude-oil processing in February for the first time since 1995, EIA data show.

"We knew domestic crude oil production was likely to surpass net crude oil imports sometime this year. Getting the month right is always a difficult proposition," said Douglas MacIntyre, an EIA analyst. "Whether this will continue for all of the months in 2013 is hard to say, but certainly we think that U.S. production will continue to increase, and if refinery runs don' t increase correspondingly, we would likely see a drop in net crude oil imports."

The dramatically shifting U.S. supply picture slashed crude oil imports from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries by 22.2% in February from a year earlier. At 2.946 MMbopd, the volume of imports from OPEC was the lowest since January 1994. OPEC accounted for just 40.5% of U.S. crude-oil imports, the lowest since June 2002, and compared with 50% in February 2011.

Imports from Saudi Arabia, the world' s largest oil exporter and de facto OPEC leader, rose after slipping in January to a nearly three-year low. That rise lifted crude imports from the Persian Gulf by 2.1% in the month, but the flow still was 6.1% below a year earlier.

Crude-oil imports from Nigeria continued to fall sharply as rising U.S. output of light, sweet crude finds its way to East Coast refiners who previously relied on imports. The flow from Nigeria plunged 56% from a year earlier, to 194,000 bopd, the lowest level since March 1985. Nigeria, which was the U.S.' s fifth-biggest crude-oil source in 2011, barely stayed among the top 10 suppliers in February.

Crude-oil imports from Venezuela fell 34.9% from a year earlier, to 579,000 bopd, the lowest volume since early 2003, when a general strike disrupted oil production.

U.S. crude imports from non-OPEC Mexico dropped to the lowest level since June 2012.

Valero Energy, the world' s largest independent refiner and marketer, confirmed recently it was reducing imports of Mexican and South American crude oil where possible at its U.S. refiners and using more Canadian heavy crude oil instead.

Dow Jones Newswires



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