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Fuel exports hit record, helping keep gas prices high in U.S.

U.S. refiners exported a record average of 895,000 barrels a day of refined fuels in August, compared with 730,000 barrels a day during the first half of the year. Most went to Central and South America.

November 12, 2011|By Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times

U.S. exports of refined fuels, particularly diesel, have surged to fresh all-time highs, helping to keep the prices of gasoline and diesel in this country at record levels for this time of year.

In August, the latest month for which Energy Department data are available, U.S. refiners exported a record average of 895,000 barrels a day of refined fuels, compared with 730,000 barrels a day during the first half of the year. Most went to Central and South America.

During 2010, exports averaged a record 656,000 barrels a day, the seventh straight year in which refiners set a new high for fuel exports. In 2003, U.S. refiners exported a little more than 100,000 barrels of fuel a day, Energy Department statistics show.

Driving the trend is strong global demand for diesel fuel.

"Increases in U.S. distillate exports began as global diesel consumption growth outpaced growth in consumption of other petroleum products over the past decade," the agency said in a recent report.

The Netherlands was the biggest buyer (146,000 barrels a day) of fuel exports in August, followed by Mexico (112,000 barrels), Panama (63,000), Brazil (56,000), Colombia (54,000), France (42,000) and Peru (41,000).

The Energy Department says surging diesel prices have "provided incentives to refiners to shift some production away from gasoline."

The result is more expensive gasoline. The average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline in the U.S. on Friday was $3.438, up 57.4 cents from a year earlier, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. That's 32.7 cents a gallon higher than the old record for this time of year, set in 2007.

The average cost in California on Friday was $3.839 a gallon. That's 70.4 cents a gallon higher than a year earlier and 47.3 cents a gallon higher than the record for fall reached in 2007.

Exports of U.S. refined fuels are expected to increase, with global demand projected to rise sharply in the coming years, analysts say.

ron.white@latimes.com

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