WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- U.S. data show oil imports from Venezuela increased more than 60 percent during the same week that Washington lawmakers looked to tighten sanctions pressure.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a status report the United States imported 896,000 barrels of Venezuelan crude oil per day for the week ending Dec. 5, up 66 percent from last week and 14.4 percent year-on-year.
A decline in global oil prices is hurting economies like Venezuela's that rely heavily on oil exports for revenue. High inflation in the country is eroding consumer purchasing power by as much as 12 percent.
In July, the government in Caracas said it could free up export volumes and to start directing oil to the Chinese market through the sale of Citgo.
The EIA data release falls on the same week that members of Congress passed legislation that would sanction Venezuelan officials suspected of serious human rights abuses.
The bill was introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J.
Anti-government demonstrations began in Venezuela in February, with protesters calling for an end to goods shortages, inflation and high crime. President Nicolas Maduro's government has blamed foreign-backed "fascists" for the unrest.
More than 40 people were killed in anti-government protests between February and May.
Imports of Venezuelan crude oil have been touted as a reason to advance the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada through the United States.
"It makes no sense to receive oil from the Middle East and Venezuela and not from a friendly neighbor in Canada," Russ Girling, president of chief executive officer of pipeline planner TransCanada, said in a November statement.
It's been more than six years since Girling's company submitted an application to build the pipeline across the U.S.-Canadian border.
EIA data show overall oil imports up modestly for the week ending Dec. 5, but 9.5 percent above the same week in 2013. From two years ago, however, U.S. oil imports are down 31.6 percent.
Canada and Saudi Arabia are the No. 1 and No. 2 oil exporters to the U.S. market, respectively.