U.S. oil production peaked in 1970; U.S. oil consumption did not. As a logical result, the importation of oil from other countries has increased over the decades until it accounted for two thirds of the petroleum used in the United States in 2008. However, that rise has not been steady. Several times over the years there have been periods when imports held steady – or even declined – and, according to an article in the Kansas City Star, one of those times is now. In 2010, U.S. oil imports didn't just ease, they plummeted, falling to 49 percent of consumption.

Sadly, that number is not quite the energy miracle it may seem. One big change in the numbers came not from the amount of oil flowing in, but from better measurements of the oil going the other way. In the past, the official calculation for oil imports failed to account for much of the oil that's brought into the country to be processed and then exported as refined gasoline or other products. Changing how this is measured may seem like playing with the books, but excluding the exported fuel makes for a more accurate measure of what is imported for consumption in the U.S. The U.S. actually exports more gasoline than it imports (that's gasoline, not oil) so accounting for this made-in-the-USA gas contributes to lowering the import figures.

The U.S. is also benefiting from some significant production increases. The numbers are not approaching the levels at the national peak, but new technology is returning U.S. production to values not seen in a decade. Also, both biofuel production and the use of liquified natural gas have increased enough to cut into the need for imported oil. Finally, there's another factor making a big difference: conservation in the form of fewer miles driven and high mileage vehicles. Of course, some of that conservation may not be by choice, as some drivers find the price of a trip too dear.

The significance of increasing use of other fuels and conservation can be seen by looking at the source of oil sent to refineries. The percentage of imported oil processed in the U.S. did drop, but only from 66 to 62 percent; a much smaller decline. Most of the oil reaching U.S. refineries is still coming from sources outside the U.S. Thus, the import percentage at the refinery level fell only four percent, but imported oil consumed fell by 17 percent because by using other fuel sources and using less gas overall, more of the gas refined in the U.S. could be turned around and sent elsewhere.

Sure, it would be great to see a decline like this happening in the middle of an economic boom, but decreased dependence on imported oil seems like a good idea at any time.


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  • 15 Comments
      Tyler Reilly
      • 3 Years Ago
      I just paid $22.87 for an iPad2-64GB and my girlfriend loves her Panasonic Lumix GF 1 Camera that we got for $38.76 there arriving tomorrow by UPS. I will never pay such expensive retail prices in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LED TV to my boss for $675 which only cost me $62.81 to buy. Here is the website we use to get it all from, PennyOrder.com
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 3 Years Ago
      3 years of recession, little to no new building of homes and commercial property, people don't have the same kind of $ to throw down on roadtrips and vacations, and an aftershock from living with $5 a gallon gasoline. I'm sorry, the picture is not as rosy as we'd like it to be. Get us out of the recession and you will see a different picture; the same old gas guzzling America.
      Roy_H
      • 3 Years Ago
      I think it would be relevant to break down the imported oil to show how much is coming from friendly countries like Canada and Mexico. Although it is highly desirable to reduce consumption for burning, (which I think is the greatest waste), other uses such as lubricants and plastics are indications of a growing economy, so this can be a good thing. So I don't think the goal should be zero imports, but it should be zero pollution and zero imports from unfriendly countries.
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Roy_H
        ftp://ftp.eia.doe.gov/pub/oil_gas/petroleum/data_publications/company_level_imports/current/import.html Canada is the new saudi arabia.
        Marco Polo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Roy_H
        How do you define a friendly country? The US imports no oil from countries whose governments are enemies, (unless you count Venezuela as unfriendly). There will always be an anti-US element among the population of every country, even firm allies. Importing less oil from those countries with large anti-US movements, will only continue to destabilise those nations further,creating more enemies. Much of the hatred toward the US in the Middle East is derived from the US uncritical support for Israel. Uncle_SAM_, makes a good point when he says that while the US economy may benefit from increased US gasoline exports, how does it help the biosphere?
        Spec
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Roy_H
        Imports from 'friendly countries' is a pointless dodge. It is a worldwide oil market. If you buy oil from Canada that still helps increase the price of oil that will be sold from Iran. We don't buy oil from Canada because they are a 'friendly country' . . . we buy it from them because they are the closest exporter. We also buy lots of a oil from Venezuela despite having close to hostile relations with them . . . because they are also close to us. I don't see zero imports as a realistic goal. It simply isn't realistic. But I'd like to reduce imports as much as possible.
      mylexicon
      • 3 Years Ago
      I know people may not want to hear about the possibility of falling oil prices, but this is actually great news, and it was quite predictable as an AB article pointed out a few weeks ago. I'm surprised that we are making progress so quickly. High oil prices actually stifle economic activity which denies governments and consumers the money they need to develop and adopt clean technology. Hopefully, declining imports will lead to falling oil prices and a bit of cost-push deflation. Consumer optimism and higher purchasing power will hopefully jumpstart Western economies again. I think most people understand gasoline exports, but I think most people also understand that we spend a similar amount maintaining a fighting force to protect oil fields.
      Ford Future
      • 3 Years Ago
      A hybrid is a better investment then the Stock Market or T-Bills. A solar array, or a wind turbine is also a better investment, with a guaranteed return. Maybe America is Investing?
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Ford Future
        To continue the list, insulation to residences (where done appropriately) also helps decrease energy consumption making investments on renewables even more affordable in comparison to oil boilers and such.
      Spec
      • 3 Years Ago
      There definitely has been a boom in US oil production in the past couple years. North Dakota has been creating many millionaire farmers from getting oil out of shale formations. Despite the Macando spill disaster, deepwater Gulf oil has been growing. That is the good news. The bad news is that the only reason that has been possible is because the price of oil has gone from $20/barrel in 2000 to near $100/barrel now. So yes it is nice that a slightly higher percentage of the oil is domestic . . . but it is also MUCH more expensive now. That is what has been slamming the economy.
      uncle_sam
      • 3 Years Ago
      but excluding the exported fuel is playing with tha numers. The burnt oil in my ol' TDI becomes Co2 and Co2 is an export good. I export it to the environment and into the air. so we take that to all US. cars, no even industries and now the US imports 0 Barrels of oil.
        GoodCheer
        • 3 Years Ago
        @uncle_sam
        If only the rest of the world would pay us for all that free CO2 they're getting from us, then we'd be living the life of Reiley. Bloody freeloaders.
          Ford Future
          • 3 Years Ago
          @GoodCheer
          "The Life of Reiley": I wonder if you can find that on UTube?
          EZEE
          • 3 Years Ago
          @GoodCheer
          Who is Reiley anyway?
      Glenn Kromminga
      • 3 Years Ago
      It seems like someone has been hiding the truth.
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