Rapid Growth In Propane Exports Drove US Petroleum Product Export Growth In First Half Of 2016 – Analysis


In the first half of 2016, the United States exported 4.7 million barrels per day (b/d) of petroleum products—almost 10 times the crude oil export volume—an increase of 500,000 b/d over the first half of 2015. While U.S. exports of distillate and gasoline increased by 50,000 b/d and nearly 140,000 b/d, respectively, propane exports increased by more than 230,000 b/d (Figure 1).

Propane is now the second-largest U.S. petroleum product export, surpassing motor gasoline. While total U.S. petroleum product exports grew, export destinations remained largely unchanged.

twip160928fig1-lgMexico, Canada, and the Netherlands received the greatest volumes of U.S. petroleum products in the first half of 2016, importing 775,000 b/d, 579,000 b/d, and 271,000 b/d, respectively. Exports to these nations were, respectively, 129,000 b/d, 67,000 b/d, and 66,000 b/d above their level in first half of 2015.

Distillate exports, the largest component of U.S. petroleum product exports for many years, averaged 1.2 million b/d in the first half 2016, an increase of 50,000 b/d from the first half 2015. Central and South America accounted for the largest share of U.S. distillate exports, averaging over 620,000 b/d in the first half of 2016, up more than 30,000 b/d from the first half of 2015 (Figure 2). Chile remained the region’s largest importer of U.S. distillate in the first half 2016, averaging over 106,000 b/d. The largest single destination overall for U.S. distillate exports was Mexico, which averaged 147,000 b/d in the first half of 2016, an increase of 3,000 b/d over the first half of 2015. Despite a well-supplied distillate market in Asia, U.S. exports to Singapore increased to 15,000 b/d in the first half of 2016, up from 11,500 b/d in the first half of 2015.twip160928fig2-lg

U.S. propane exports increased from 562,000 b/d in the first half of 2015 to 793,000 b/d in the first half 2016. Exports to Asia and Oceania accounted for 94% of this growth (Figure 3). Japan imported the most U.S. propane at 159,000 b/d in the first half of 2016, an increase of 111,000 b/d from 48,000 b/d in the first half 2015. Exports to Panama, however, fell from 41,000 b/d in the first half 2015 to 7,000 b/d in the first half 2016.twip160928fig3-lg

The large increases in exports to Japan and decreases in exports to Panama could be a result of reduced ship-to-ship transfer activity, following narrower price differentials between the U.S. and Asia. Some of the propane exports from the United States that undergo ship-to-ship transfers will cite the location of the transfer and not the final destination of the propane. This often results in larger-than-actual export numbers for the countries where the ship-to-ship transfers take place and in less-than-actual numbers for some final destinations. For example, export data involving ship-to-ship transfers may show Panama as the destination of a propane export cargo eventually destined for Japan or other countries in Asia.

Gasoline exports increased 138,000 b/d in the first half of 2016 compared with the first half of 2015. North America (Canada and Mexico) accounts for the majority of the growth with an increase of 92,000 b/d (Figure 4). Mexico represents the largest single recipient of U.S. gasoline exports at 363,000 b/d, up from 283,000 b/d in the first half of 2015. As part of its energy sector reformspassed in 2013, Mexico liberalized the country’s energy sector, allowing market participants other than state company Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX). In January 2016, as part of the liberalization process, Mexico began to allow companies besides PEMEX to import fuels, resulting in increased exports from nearby refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Canada is the second-largest recipient of U.S. gasoline at 66,000 b/d in the first half of 2016, up from 55,000 b/d in the first half of 2015.twip160928fig4-lg

Despite growth in the total volume of U.S. petroleum product exports, their regional distribution has not changed significantly from 2005 to 2015. In 2015, over 60% of exports remained within the Western Hemisphere, down only modestly from approximately 65% in 2005. North America’s share of total U.S. exports is down nine percentage points, while Central and South America’s share is up six percentage points. Exports to other global regions remained steady, with every region’s share of U.S. exports staying within two percentage points of their 2005 share.

Readers who follow EIA’s export data will likely know that the agency recently made significant improvements in its estimates of weekly export data by using near-real-time export data obtained from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The recent changes in the weekly export data do not affect the monthly data cited in this article, which reflect official trade statistics published by the U.S. Census Bureau.

U.S. average regular gasoline retail and diesel fuel prices decrease

The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price dropped slightly to $2.22 per gallon, down 10 cents from the same time last year. The Rocky Mountain price dropped two cents to $2.25 per gallon, the Midwest price dropped one cent to $2.14 per gallon, and the Gulf Coast price dropped less than a penny to $1.96 per gallon. The East Coast price rose one cent to $2.20 per gallon, while the West Coast price rose only modestly, remaining at $2.65 per gallon.

The U.S. average diesel fuel price fell one cent from a week ago to $2.38 per gallon, down nine cents from the same time last year. The Rocky Mountain price fell two cents to $2.47 per gallon. The West Coast, Midwest, and Gulf Coast prices fell one cent each to $2.64 per gallon, $2.36 per gallon, and $2.23 per gallon, respectively. The East Coast price remained virtually unchanged at $2.39 per gallon.

Propane inventories gain

U.S. propane stocks increased by 1.5 million barrels last week to 103.3 million barrels as of September 23, 2016, 4.5 million barrels (4.6%) higher than a year ago. Gulf Coast and East Coast inventories increased by 1.7 and 0.2 million barrels, respectively, while Midwest and Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories decreased by 0.3 and 0.1 million barrels, respectively. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 2.7% of total propane inventories.


The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) collects, analyzes, and disseminates independent and impartial energy information to promote sound policymaking, efficient markets, and public understanding of energy and its interaction with the economy and the environment.

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