The United States imported a record 63% of its oil from foreign sources in 2003, government figures showed Wednesday, and oil analysts said that dependence was likely to rise in the new year.
Crude imports accounted for 62.9% of oil run through U.S. refineries, up from the previous record of 61.7% in 2001 and from 61.2% in 2002, the Energy Department said.
Twenty years ago, foreign crude accounted for only 28% of oil used by the United States, the world's biggest consumer then and now.
"Our domestic production has been going down in recent years or has stayed relatively flat, but we're running more and more through the refineries every year," said Doug MacIntyre, an analyst with the Energy Information Administration, which is the statistical arm of the Energy Department.
"So, where is that crude going to come from? We have to get that from imports," MacIntyre said.
Crude imports also set a new high in 2003 with 9.6 million barrels a day. The amount of crude refined in the United States was also a record at 15.3 million barrels daily, the Energy Information Administration said.
"Crude imports are going to continue to rise," said George Beranek, an oil analyst at the Washington-based Petroleum Finance Co. "It's just the inevitable result of increasing U.S. oil demand with flat-to-decreasing domestic supplies."
The U.S. controlled about 60% of the world's proved oil reserves just after World War II. In terms of production, the U.S. is still the third largest in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Russia, according to BP's annual review of petroleum statistics.
But U.S. demand for oil is about a fourth of the world's total daily production of about 78 million barrels a day.
The volume of crude imports rose 500,000 barrels a day in 2003, the Energy Information Administration said, even as the price of benchmark crude in the United States averaged $31, up 19% from the previous year. This is the highest average annual U.S. price for crude since 1982, according to data complied by BP.
Instability in Iraq, Venezuela and Nigeria helped boost prices, energy experts said.
"Ultimately, more imports will be needed in 2004 to bring inventories back to levels high enough to relieve some of the price pressures experienced in 2003," the Energy Department said in a report.
The biggest exporter of crude to the United States, according to the most recent department data, was Saudi Arabia at an average of 1.76 million barrels daily. The next three leading exporters were from the Western Hemisphere: Mexico at 1.57 million barrels, Canada at 1.53 million and Venezuela at 1.16 million.