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Since 1952, the United States has imported more energy than it’s exported. But that could soon change. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the US is poised to become a net exporter, trading more energy resources to other countries than it takes in.
Net imports hit a high in 2005 when the United States imported more than 30 quadrillion British thermal units (BTUs, or a unit of heat used also to measure energy), mostly in the form of crude oil. To put that figure in perspective, the 2005 high could also power 391 million American homes, meaning every home in the country and then some. Net imports in 2005 were also slightly more than the 28.3 quadrillion BTUs consumed by the entire transportation sector in 2018.
Between 2005 and 2018, net energy imports fell 88% to 3.6 quadrillion BTUs, partially due to a rise in domestic oil production and a significant increase in exports. During the first six months of 2019, the net imports for the year stood at 0.1 BTU. The final figures for 2019 are expected to be released in early 2020.
Based on data available back to 1949, the United States has always been a net exporter of coal. In 2017, the United States became a net exporter of natural gas, the first time in 60 years. Exports for both of these fossil fuels are higher than in 2005. Exports for coal are rising even as domestic production decreases.
The role of these fuels in the United States’ energy trade is small compared to petroleum products, all of which are created from crude oil. Petroleum products made up 87% of all energy imports in 2018. Between 2005 and 2018, the amount of petroleum energy imported fell 26%, from 29.1 quadrillion BTUs to 21.5 quadrillion BTUs.
The drop in net imports of petroleum products is driven by the US exporting more petroleum products between 2005 and 2018. Exports of petroleum products increased more than 500% from 2.3 quadrillion BTUs to 14.4 quadrillion BTUs. Crude oil imports dropped from 22.1 quadrillion BTUs to 17.2 quadrillion BTUs during this period. Between 2005 and 2018, Canada, the largest exporter of petroleum products to the United States, saw its exports double from 2.1 million barrels a day to 4.3 million. Saudi Arabia, the second-largest exporter, saw its exports to the US drop 42% from 1.5 million barrels a day to 900,000 barrels a day.
Note: The EIA uses both barrels and BTUs to refer to oil production. One barrel of crude oil equals 5.7 million BTUs. A barrel creates about 42 gallons of gas.
At the same time, production of oil in the United States doubled from 11 quadrillion BTUs in 2005 to 22.9 quadrillion BTUs in 2018. Total energy consumption — which encompasses electric power plants, transportation, industry, commercial and residential uses — has stayed largely flat since 2005. Where that energy comes from has changed. Americans used about 8% less petroleum-based energy in 2018 than in 2005. During this same period, domestic coal consumption fell 42%, natural gas consumption increased 37% and renewable energy consumption increased 85%.
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