Nov. 30 (UPI) -- For the second year in a row, the United States is on pace to become a net gas exporter once the year is over, the federal government reported.
The federal U.S. Energy Information Administration said last year was the first year that exports were higher than imports, with net gasoline exports averaging 56,000 barrels per day. Through September, the average has been around 55,000 barrels per day.
"Despite record high gasoline consumption, the United States is on pace to export more gasoline than it imports for the second year in a row," the agency said in a weekly report.
Most U.S. gasoline exports head to markets in Mexico and Central and South America. Mexico is by far the largest consumer of U.S. gasoline, taking on more than half of the total exports during the first half of the year. EIA explained that, because of energy market reforms and lower refinery utilization, Mexican demand necessitates higher imports.
Mexico's government in July held its first auction to access capacity to natural gas infrastructure as part of the country's sweeping energy reforms. Those reforms could bring in up to $415 billion in investments over the next 20 years as the country establishes links to the rest of the world.
Last month, Dutch supermajor Shell said it's opened its first retail gasoline service station in Mexico, one of the largest gasoline markets in the world. The company said it's the first part of a 10-year, $1 billion investment in the Mexican energy sector, provided market conditions continue to improve at their current rate.
Deregulation caused retail gasoline prices to spike at the start of the year and brought increased public pressure on Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Mexican Energy Secretary Pedro Joaquín Coldwell said Shell's new service station represented a shift at the retail level.
For the United States, the export trend comes amid higher gasoline consumption, which set a record in August. To meet the combined pace of exports and domestic demand, refineries are running at higher rates.
Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy, told UPI the export trend could lead to higher gas prices at home because there are now "more hands in the cookie jar."
As of Monday, the federal government put the national average retail price for gas at $2.53 per gallon, about 38 cents, or 17 percent, higher than the same time last year. EIA estimates a full-year average of $2.40 per gallon and $2.45 per gallon for next year.