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U.S. exports record amount of refined fuels in 2011

Supplies that might have helped lower domestic prices were shipped abroad, causing U.S. drivers to spend a record amount on gasoline.

December 30, 2011|By Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times
  • U.S. refineries exported a record amount of refined fuels in 2011 to markets in South America, Central America and Europe. Above, the Conoco-Phillips Alliance refinery in Belle Chasse, La., which processes more than 200 million barrels a year.
U.S. refineries exported a record amount of refined fuels in 2011 to markets… (Carolyn Cole, Los Angeles…)

U.S. refineries exported a record amount of refined fuels in 2011 to markets in South America, Central America and Europe. It was one reason why Americans spent a record amount on gasoline this year: Supplies that might have helped lower prices here had been shipped abroad.

In 2007, U.S. exports of all kinds of fuel held steady throughout the year at 1.24 million to 1.25 million barrels a day, according to Energy Department statistics.

But by 2011, exports of diesel, gasoline and other products surged. In November and December, U.S. fuel exports averaged between 2.77 million and 2.89 million barrels a day, the highest ever.

Meanwhile, U.S. drivers paid an average of about $3.50 a gallon for gasoline during the year, also the highest ever.

On Friday, Californians were paying an average of $3.602 for a gallon of regular gasoline, 28.7 cents a gallon more than they have ever paid on a Dec. 30, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. Nationally, the average cost for a gallon of regular Friday was $3.269, or 19.8 cents a gallon more than ever on a Dec. 30.

The trend was predicted as early as January, when two analysts with the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration delivered a presentation to the 2011 Argus Americas Crude Summit in Houston.

Joanne Shore, lead operations research analyst at the Energy Information Administration, and colleague John Hackworth said that U.S. refineries had found thriving and lucrative markets overseas for their products, even as they were shutting down domestic facilities because of low demand.

Their main points: "World growth in distillate fuels" demand had "provided some attractive export opportunities for U.S. refiners" and U.S. low-sulfur diesel products were coveted in Europe, which had been more dependent on higher-sulfur fuel coming out of Russia. U.S. Gulf Coast markets also were far closer to South and Central American markets than distant European competitors.

ron.white@latimes.com

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