US crude exports: A new player dominates the Asian market

Author Amanda Hilow, Deputy Editor

With domestic output exceeding regional demand, US crude producers are increasingly looking toward the export market for new outlets.


US crude production is consistently rising to meet new highs, and domestic infrastructure has metamorphosized into a build-out to better support rising flows to the US Gulf coast for export. Outbound crude volume is branching out in new directions and new destinations every quarter. And overall volume has increased exponentially just in the short timeframe since the US government lifted decades-old crude export restrictions in December 2015.

Asia lifted about 44% of total US crude exports in the first quarter of this year, according to the latest official monthly customs data, with South Korea and India emerging as the main destinations in that same timeframe. US flows to South Korea began to displace competing CPC Blend supplies in early 2017 as a widening spread between WTI and Mideast Gulf benchmark Dubai created economic arbitrage opportunities. At the same time, uncertainty surrounding Brexit has threatened the crude flows between the UK and South Korea, and this could ultimately propel US-to-South Korea flows even higher going forward.

India became the biggest importer of US crude behind Canada in March for the first time since it began taking crude purchases from the US in 2017. This follows India’s largest state-controlled refiner IOC signing two term deals to take a total of 218,000 b/d of US crude beginning in April and later in the second quarter of this year.

But don't count out China just yet. After halting purchases for several months in late 2018, amid rising tensions between the US and China in an ongoing tariff dispute, we're now seeing through preliminary Argus tracking data that US-to-China crude flows could top 300,000 b/d again as soon as this month.

Interested in hearing more about US crude exports and recent developments in US Gulf coast infrastructure? Listen to our US crude exports and infrastructure webinar.

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