Offshore, not shale, driving U.S. oil exports

U.S. oil largely from the Gulf of Mexico is finding its way to the economies of Asia.

By Daniel J. Graeber
U.S. oil from the Gulf of Mexico is competing with Middle East suppliers in the Asian economy, data and analysis find. File photo by A.J. Sisco/UPI
U.S. oil from the Gulf of Mexico is competing with Middle East suppliers in the Asian economy, data and analysis find. File photo by A.J. Sisco/UPI | License Photo

May 18 (UPI) -- Asian markets are drawing more on U.S. crude oil to quench their appetites, but it's mostly coming from offshore, not shale, analysts said Thursday.

Apart from certain cases, U.S. crude oil exports were restricted until late in the second term of U.S. President Barack Obama. Federal data this week show total U.S. crude oil exports averaged 767,000 barrels of oil per day so far this year, compared with the 509,000 barrels per day for the last 10 weeks of 2016.


The rise in U.S. crude oil exports has contributed to the steady decline in domestic inventories, as oil leaves the Gulf Coast market for overseas. Higher total U.S. oil production, meanwhile, is contributing to the factors facilitating more exports. Production for the week ending May 12 was 9.3 million barrels per day, up 6 percent from the same time last year.


Geoffrey Craig, the oil futures editor for pricing agency S&P Global Platts, said in commentary this week that U.S. crude oil exports have been competitive against Middle East suppliers to the Asian market because West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for the price of oil, has been at a discount when compared with the regional Dubai benchmark. WTI held a premium over Dubai crude oil last year.

Dubai was down about 1.6 percent in early Thursday trading to $50.44 per barrel, against WTI for $48.25 per barrel at about 7:15 am EDT.

Trading company Vitol, which has headquarters in Switzerland, scheduled the loading of 600,000 barrels of light crude oil from a Houston shipping terminal with the help of Enterprise Product Partners during the first week of January 2016. It was the first such shipment in roughly 40 years.

A report from the Congressional Budget Office found authorizing U.S. crude oil exports could increase the price of U.S. crude oil by around $2.50 per barrel during a period ending in 2025, though WTI has rarely been at a premium against other grades.

Sandy Fielden, the director of research, commodities and energy at Morningstar, told UPI the large premium for Dubai crude makes U.S. crude oil more attractive.


"This is still mostly U.S. Gulf of Mexico medium sour crude like Southern Green Canyon -- not shale crude," he said.

Some exports of an ultra-light form of oil called condensate, derived from shale, is permitted but not reported in weekly figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Fielden said U.S. oil from the Gulf of Mexico is displacing Middle East crude oil because of the perception that members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries are cutting back on deliveries of similar grades of oil to that off the U.S. coast.

Vandana Hari, an industry analyst for Vanda Insights, told UPI that as long as OPEC keeps its production ceiling in place, the flow of heavier oil is constrained and thereby propping up the value of Dubai crude, which gives WTI a competitive edge in the Asian market.

"Asia continues to experience a healthy growth in oil demand, while U.S. output continues to climb," she said. "It's a simple equation of the marginal barrel meeting the marginal demand."

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