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America Has Never Exported So Much Oil and Gas

It’s shaping up to be another record year for U.S. fossil fuel exports.

An oil refinery.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

America is still exporting a lot of fossil fuels.

The United States shipped abroad almost 4 million barrels of oil per day during the first half of 2023, according to Energy Information Administration data, the highest rate in the first six months of any year since the ban on oil exports was lifted in 2015. It was also 650,000 more barrels per day than during the first half of 2022. The oil export boom was matched by surging exports of natural gas, which also hit their highest level for the first six months of a year, with some 20 billion cubic feet of gas exported per day.

A bit less than half of that oil went to Europe, the EIA reported, with much of the remaining balance going to Asia, including China. Gas followed a similar pattern.

That the United States is now an oil and gas powerhouse has completely reshaped energy politics across the world.

America’s ability to produce natural gas cheaply thanks to fracking and then export it thanks to massive investments in liquefaction technology enabled European economies to ride out the restriction of gas supplies following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

The United States’ oil production has also let it respond to spiking oil prices following the invasion, using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve — oil stockpiled in salt caverns on the Gulf Coast — to relieve price hikes. Since then, the Department of Energy has sought to refill the SPR when oil prices dipped down in order to encourage a baseline level of domestic oil production.

These oil exports have also changed the United States’ relationship to the rest of world’s oil exporters. U.S. oil imports from the Middle East have almost been cut in half in the past five years and imports from OPEC writ large have fallen by almost two thirds in that time period. Instead of the U.S. being purely at the mercy of large hydrocarbon exporters like Saudi Arabia or Russia, it’s now one of their competitors.

This hydrocarbon production and export ability has been a boon to the U.S. trade balance but has made domestic energy and especially climate politics more tricky.

The Biden administration has been trapped between its own desire to keep energy costs for American consumers low, satisfy members of its coalition who support fossil fuel investment, comply with existing federal law, and also try to reduce emissions. It has announced legally mandated lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico with press releases featuring wind turbines and approved a new oil drilling project in Alaska on federal land that had the support of its Democratic member of Congress.

For many environmentalists, energy exports have long been objectionable. Environmental groups opposed lifting the oil export ban in 2015, saying it would encourage fossil fuel investment and increase emissions.

Some Democratic lawmakers, including Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, regularly protest natural gas exports, crediting them with turning what was once a domestic market constrained by pipelines into an international one — and thus increasing demand for American fossil fuels (and their price). Markey has even called for banning oil and natural gas exports.

The most recent data shows why that will likely not happen anytime soon.

Matthew Zeitlin

Matthew is a correspondent at Heatmap. Previously he was an economics reporter at Grid, where he covered macroeconomics and energy, and a business reporter at BuzzFeed News, where he covered finance. He has written for The New York Times, the Guardian, Barron's, and New York Magazine. Read More

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What Do Rich Countries Owe Their Old Colonies? More Than Once Thought.

A new report from Carbon Brief shows how accounting for empires tips the historic emissions balance.

British colonialists in India.

The British pose in India.

Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

At the height of Britain’s power, it was said that the sun never set on its empire. The crown’s tendrils stretched around the world, with colonies on every continent but Antarctica — though I’m sure if there had been anybody around to subjugate on the ice, the crown would have happily set up shop there, too.

The British were not, of course, the only colonial power; many of their European brethren had empires of their own. All that colonization takes energy, and the days of empire were also, for the most part, the days of coal. But as countries around the world gained their independence, they also found themselves responsible for the historic emissions that came from their colonizers burning fossil fuels within their borders.

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