US crude oil exports in first-half 2023 averaged 3.99 million b/d, which is a record high for the first half of a year since 2015 when the US lifted its ban on most crude oil exports, according to US Energy Information Administration (EIA) data. In first-half 2023, crude oil exports were up 650,000 b/d (+19%) compared with first-half 2022.
Europe was the largest regional destination for US crude oil exports by volume, at 1.75 million b/d, led by exports to the Netherlands and the UK. Following closely, Asia accounted for the next-highest volume, receiving 1.68 million b/d, driven by exports to China and South Korea. The US exported smaller volumes of crude oil to Canada, Africa, Central America, and South America.
Despite the surge in exports during first-half 2023, the US maintains its status as a net crude oil importer. The US continues to import crude oil despite rising domestic crude oil production in part because many US refineries are configured to process heavy, sour crude oil (with a low API gravity and high sulfur content) rather than the light, sweet crude oil (with a high API gravity and low sulfur content) typically produced in the US.
US crude oil imports predominantly originate from historical trading partners such as Mexico and Canada. Heavy, sour crude grades often receive discounts compared to their light, sweet counterparts due to the increased complexity required by refineries to produce profitable refined products like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. Consequently, most US crude oil imports occur when it is more economically viable for US refiners to process discounted heavy grades, as these refineries have already invested in the necessary complexity for their refining operations, EIA said.
The rapid increase in US domestic production in the early 2010s increased domestic light, sweet crude oil production. Some US refiners on the Gulf Coast have invested in expanding their light, sweet crude oil processing capacity. However, for many refiners, particularly in the Midwest and along the Gulf Coast, refining discounted heavy, sour crude oil grades remains more profitable.