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United States as energy exporter: Is it “fake news”?

United States as energy exporter: Is it “fake news”? thumbnail

Much of the media coverage of the American energy industry implies that America has become a vast and growing exporter of energy to the rest of the world and that this has created a sort of “energy dominance” for the country on the world stage.

Whether such reports qualify as so-called “fake news” depends very much on three things: 1) How one defines “fake news,” 2) whether writers of such reports qualify the words “imports” and “exports” with the word “net” and 3) which energy sources they are discussing.

In this case let’s define “fake news” as claims that official, publicly available statistics show plainly to be false. By that criterion anyone who claims that the United States is a net energy exporter would certainly be guilty of propagating “fake news.”

Energy statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that in November 2017 (the most recent month for which figures are available) the United States had net imports 329.5 trillion BTUs of energy in all its forms.* That’s down from a peak of 2.74 quadrillion BTUs in August 2006, something that is certainly a turnabout from the previous trend. But all claims that the United States is a net energy exporter must be labeled as unequivocally false.

It turns out, however, that most people making misleading claims about America’s energy situation don’t actually say or write things which are technically false. What they do is use language which intentionally or unintentionally misleads the reader or listener.

For example, the claim that the United States is an exporter of crude oil is true. But that claim is entirely misleading. While the United States exports about 1.5 million barrels a day (mbpd) of crude oil, it also imports 7.5 mbpd. That puts the net imports of crude oil at about 6 mbpd. (All numbers are four-week averages as of February 23.) This reality is simply not conveyed by the unqualified statement that the United States is an oil exporter. Those making such a claim either haven’t done their research, are sloppy writers or intend to mislead.

This curious state of affairs in American crude oil imports and exports results from not having enough refining capacity for the kind of oil coming out of the country’s shale oil deposits, more properly called tight oil. That oil is too “light” for many American refineries. Therefore, much of it is shipped abroad to refineries with the capability to refine it. The United States tends to import heavier crudes that match its overall refinery capabilities.

The United States has more refinery capacity than it needs for its own consumption of petroleum products such as gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and heating oil. Some of that capacity has long been used to produce these products for export—for over 30 years, in fact.

The EIA reports 4.5 mbpd of these products shipped abroad as the four-week average as of February 23. But that overstates the case since the number includes an enigmatic category called “Other Oil” which consists primarily of natural gas plant liquids (products such as ethane, propane and butane) that are simply not part of the petroleum production stream. Subtracting those gives us about 3 mbpd which are curiously offset by imports of those same products of about 1 mbpd. That puts the net exports of petroleum products strictly speaking at about 2 mbpd—significant, but not enough to make the United States a net exporter of crude oil and petroleum products combined. The country remains a net importer of about 4 mbpd of those combined products .

When it comes to natural gas, it turns out the United States is just barely a net exporter. In 2017 the country exported 3.17 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas and imported 3.04 tcf. America is hardly a major force in the natural gas export market today. There are those who claim, however, that it will become one because of future growth in U.S. natural gas production. This includes the EIA.

The EIA’s record for long-term forecasts, however, is abysmal. (To see how abysmal, read here and here.) With regard to U.S. natural gas production, a private study based on actual natural gas well histories (rather than optimistic claims from the industry) suggests that production in 2050 will be only a fraction of what it is today. As the study points out, natural gas plays in shale basins are the only ones with growing production, and four of the six major shale gas plays are already in steep decline. It is difficult to see how such trends can lead to a major increase in U.S. natural gas production through 2050. (It is well to remember that oil and gas executives are on a constant hunt for capital with which to fund new drilling. Not surprisingly, it pays them to be optimistic when courting investors either in person or through the media.)

As for coal, the United States has long been self-sufficient in coal and currently exports about 3 percent of its production on a net basis according to EIA statistics.

There are connections between the U.S. and Canadian electricity grids. The Canadians send more electricity to the United States than the United States sends to Canada which, of course, makes the United States a net importer of Canadian electricity.

The United States does mine and process uranium for nuclear power stations. But almost 90 percent of the uranium purchased for American reactors must be imported.

The current picture of American energy production is decidedly not one of “dominance.” Instead, though rising production of oil and natural gas has reduced dependence on foreign energy supplies, the country remains dependent on imported oil, a situation that even the ever optimistic EIA does not expect to change through 2050.

For those who say they know the future of energy production in the United States, I recommend reading the linked critiques above of previous major long-term energy forecasts. Making energy policy based on long-term forecasts that have proven again and again to be wildly mistaken is not just unwise, but dangerous. An infrastructure built for overly optimistic projections of supply for a particular fuel—natural gas fired electricity generating plants come to mind—could end up worthless or at the very least create tense and destabilizing competition for fuel supplies that don’t grow as expected.


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26 Comments on "United States as energy exporter: Is it “fake news”?"

  1. Duncan Idaho on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 12:21 pm 

    Well, except for the 5 million barrels a day we import.
    At laest it is not 10 million, which we did a short while back– but that will change as soon as the shell end game comes to a crashing end.

  2. Anonymouse1 on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 12:58 pm 

    Fake news
    Fake government
    Fake statistics
    Fake democracy

    These define amerika.

    It should be noted however, that the uS is a net-exporter of bombs and bullets. Even after its police and citizens get done killing each other, the uS still has plenty of bullets left over to export to the world.

  3. Davy on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 1:38 pm 

    You forgot fake neighbor to the north, weasel.

  4. coffeeguyzz on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 1:53 pm 

    I continue to be flabbergasted that people use David Hughes’ works as reference sources.

    How many here have read Drilling Deeper, Shale Reality Check, his updates on the Bakken and – most hilariously – his pithy dismissal of West Virginia University’s laborious study on the Utica???

    Has ANYONE one of the followers of this site ANY awareness of Mr. Hughes’ spectacular, long running track record of inaccuracies?

    Yes, yes, criticize me, lambaste my position, continue to froth at anyone posting varying views … but … but …

    IF you are unaware of the truths I just referenced, than you well deserve to be categorized as willing Know Nothings perpetuating a fool’s stance to a shrinking audience.

  5. JH Wyoming on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 1:57 pm 

    I recall in the prez debates HRC claiming the US had become energy independent, then Trump in a later debate made the same claim, yet there wasn’t a correction made, or comment by pundits about that inaccurate information. Why not? Do most people in America now assert to that falsehood?

  6. MASTERMIND on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 2:13 pm 

    JH Wym

    They might as well keep the sheep ignorant of our energy issues. Otherwise it could spook the horses ahead of time!

  7. rockman on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 2:23 pm 

    Ding…ding…ding: FAKE NEWS! LOL. ”… from not having enough refining capacity for the kind of oil coming out of the country’s shale oil deposits, more properly called tight oil. That oil is too “light” for many American refineries.” In his own words the author is using “language which intentionally or unintentionally misleads the reader or listener.” US refineries do not utilize light oil/condensate. Nor do they utilize heavy oil…domestic or imported. As reported by the EIA US refineries have been processing blended oil for decades. Blended oils with API’s of 32 +/- 1 API. That is the gravity that is optimum for US refineries…not heavy oils. In fact, before the boom in domestic light oil/condensate production the US, again according to the EIA, our refineries had to import significant volumes of light oil/condensate for blending.

    Also, a significant volume of exported US light oil/condensate returns to us as a portion of the dilbit (diluted bitumen) imported from Canada. As much as 350,000 bbls per day. Yes: 130 MILLION BBLS per year was re-imported. And that only increases the gravity of the dilbit to around 23 API. More domestically produced light oil/condensate has to be added (usually at Cushing, OK) to bring the oil up to the 32 API required by the refineries.

    Fortunately, the shale boom allowed the US to eliminate the light oil/condensate imports and, in turn, export large amounts to foreign refineries (like those in eastern Canada) that are desperate for it and thus willing to pay a premium. In addition to the prices paid for it the Eagle Ford Shale production in south Texas, it isn’t hauled by tankers half way around the continent for free. Consider last year Venezuela had to import light oil/condensate half way around the world from north Africa to blend with its heavy oil/crap.

    I doubt the author intended this article to be used as a classic example of how reality can be totally misrepresented. Either unintentional or intentionally as he noted in the article.

  8. rockman on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 2:40 pm 

    A – The absolute numbers are even more “impressive”. The #1 US exports 40% more military hardware then #2 Russia. And more then the combined exports of #3 thru #10: China, France, Germany, UK, Spain, Italy, Ukraine and Israel.

    War is hell. But profit margins are a bit of a comfort.

  9. Boat on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 2:56 pm 

    Raciests in particular along with the right have trouble acknowledging that Obama will be known as the energy president. Fracking, wind and solar all made huge strides during his two terms.

    Speaking of fake news Idaho the US is net 3.5 mbpd net short of oil independence, not 5. Net short oil peaked at around 12 mbpd, not 10. Some
    of us Americans track this shyt unlike many US haters that don’t have a clue.

  10. Cloggie on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 3:16 pm 

    “War is hell. But profit margins are a bit of a comfort.”

    Hell for the Syrians, profits for the arms dealers.

    The fact that 300 million firearms are most likely going to be used against Americans is a bit of a…

  11. Anonymouse1 on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 3:20 pm 

    Raciests…… Where do you find those Boatieatd? At Nascar? Indy 500?

  12. Anonymous on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 5:16 pm 

    It’s pretty reasonable and I will even give you differentiating propane from crude products. (But then you have to add another category for NGLs like you did for other energy forms and we are a clear massive net exporter there.)

    The one major piece of fake news is citing David Hughes. That guys has been wrong all over the place.

    *Missed the stall and now resurgence of Haynesville.

    *Missed the Utica.

    *Doesn’t understand gas on gas competition or price impact.

    *2006 Peak Gas video for ASPO (said we would be dropping 1.5 BCF/d per year–grew instead.)

    *2011 shale critiques (still in his bio on the PCI site): in there we have already beaten the EIA estimates for growth to 2040 that he scoffed at. In fact we beat them by 2011.

  13. Davy on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 5:26 pm 

    “The fact that 300 million firearms are most likely going to be used against Americans is a bit of a…”

    U wish nazi

  14. Anonymous on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 5:31 pm 

    *and he fails to discuss associated gas. E.g. the Permian.

  15. Cloggie on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 5:32 pm

    The right is winning in Italy!

    The prospects for cowards like Davy to run off to Italy and flee fighting in CW2 are getting dimm.

  16. Davy on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 5:47 pm 

    you are the dumbass stuck in your little dutchy. Sorry, neder, I have options and you don’t. If you were not such an ugly person inside and out maybe you would have somebody to be with. You probably don’t even have a pet because they run off.

  17. Anonymous on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 5:53 pm 

    “”I think the Marcellus is getting pretty close to the peak in [total] production…When the data comes out, we can see what really happened. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a peak in the Marcellus this year, maybe next year at the latest.”

    Hughes in 2014:

    What actually happened:

    Date Marcellus
    2013 avg 9.94
    2014 avg 13.20
    2015 avg 15.00
    2016 avg 16.14
    2017 avg 17.37

    (source: EIA)

    And the Utica (in same region, but deeper, grew also):

    Date Utica (OH, PA & WV)
    2013 avg 0.29
    2014 avg 1.20
    2015 avg 2.65
    2016 avg 3.89
    2017 avg 4.71

    That’s right, the “App” (Marcellus plus Utica) is now over 20 BCF/d.

  18. Cloggie on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 6:04 pm 

    “you are the dumbass stuck in your little dutchy. Sorry, neder, I have options and you don’t”

    You memory is failing as I have explained to you more than once that I can go anywhere in Europe, unlike you, who will be stuck in Italy, pretending to be a Canadian.

    But you are mad Davy, just like millimind tonight. Is something the matter? Do you want to talk about it?

  19. Davy on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 6:09 pm 

    what is it like to be all alone? Is that why you are here so much?

  20. Boat on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 8:27 pm 


    A temporary peak. With Nat gas at less than $2.70 the rig count will be dropping. If you followed Nat gas you would know the rig count rises at around $3.

  21. MASTERMIND on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 8:48 pm 


    Shell forecasts global Natural Gas supply shortage in mid-2020s

  22. coffeeguyzz on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 9:16 pm 

    You might find the recent (December, 2017) report from DOE – “Primer on NGLs, Focus on Appalachian Basin” – very informative.
    Full of graphics, great intro to both the ‘world’ of NGLs along with a fairly current snapshot of AB drilling and infrastructure.

    They forecast a doubling of annual output to 16 Tcf by 2050.

    As preposterous as that may seem, the ongoing expansion of Utica productive areas, off the charts recent Marcellus output, coinciding with 10 Bcfd takeaway pipe this year (not to mention 500,000 bbld NGL to Marcus Hook via anticipated Mariner East 2 and 2X), bodes favorably for optimistic projections.

    The numbers this time next year will knock people’s socks off … garownteed.

  23. Theedrich on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 9:21 pm 

    Russia has now put The Empire publicly on notice.  On Thursday, 2018 March 1, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, in his annual state-of-the-nation speech, announced several new and developing, uninterceptable nuclear weapons designed to defeat American defenses and stop U.S. aggression against his nation and folk.  While the Pentagon, through its spies, has known about such arms for a long time, this is the first most Yankee mushrooms have heard about them.  After all, in the Indispensable Nation, the most important war is the psyops campaign of the Deep State against the people.

    The Swamplings were quick to disparage and downplay the announcement, since the catatonic masses must not be disturbed in any way.  The bribe-ocracy must continue to hold them in mental captivity.  Any talk about America losing its ability to destroy the Revivified Soviet Threat with a surprise first nuclear strike has to be silenced, and the conversation quickly returned to Trump-bashing.  Yup, Captain America can move our innocent nukes right up to the Russian border and threaten the evil Neo-Soviets with annihilation.  That’s just fine.  But even any whispers about effective defenses by Russland are unacceptable.  So pay no attention to the insects behind the curtain in D.C., Boobie.

    Never mind what former president Bill Clinton told his adviser on Russia, Strobe Talbott, “We keep telling ol’ Boris [Yeltsin], ‘O.K. now here’s what you’ve got to do next — here’s some more shit for your face.’”  This quote and this attitude are well known to Putin.  Inexplicably, he is not amused by them.

    The herd is unconcerned about the Unthinkable.  Indeed, any serious concern might make them vote differently.  So keep them walking blindly and blithely into the abyss.  Describe all global dangers in infantile, Yid-Christian terms to the sheeplings, as though the rest of the world accepted our mythology.  After all, what we don’t know can’t hurt us.

  24. TheNationalist on Mon, 5th Mar 2018 6:46 am 

    Hear, hear!. I’m with you on that Edrich!

    Buy that man a beer!

    Rejoice fellow peasants in the voices of reason that permeate our oppressive and downtrodden predicaments!

  25. Kurt Cobb on Mon, 5th Mar 2018 2:58 pm 

    @ Rockman, I always appreciate Rockman’s close reading of my pieces. I’m well aware of crude blending practices, but see how he could have gotten the impression that he did. I’ve made a small change in the original so that readers will understand more precisely why American refineries can’t take any more light tight oil feedstocks than they already do. In this sense, tight oil is too light to add to their current blends, that is, adding more would be less than optimal. As Rockman reports, we do import some heavier crudes such as those from Canada to help refineries take advantage of the surplus of light tight oil now available for blending. Have I missed anything, Rockman?

  26. Boat on Mon, 5th Mar 2018 6:50 pm 


    The US used to import a much bigger percentage of lighter api oil before fracking. Now most of the imports are heavy and from a variety of countries.

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