U.S. exports more fuel, keeping gasoline prices high
Oil prices are still far below their highs for the year, but U.S. motorists aren't benefiting from lower prices because the nation's refineries continue to boost exports and reduce supplies available in the U.S.
In California, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline jumped 12.1 cents a gallon in just the last week, to $3.941, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. That's also 89 cents a gallon higher than the price a year ago.
Nationally, the AAA said, the average price climbed 4.8 cents a gallon to $3.66 over the last week -- 97.7 cents higher than the same day in 2010.
"The U.S. petroleum balance of trade continues to shift in a 'sea change' that is both literal and figurative. For the tenth week in a row, Energy Department numbers show that the country exported considerably more refined products cargoes than were imported," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service in New Jersey.
Much of the refined product involved in the exports is diesel, Kloza said, meaning that refineries are opting to devote more of their attention to that fuel at the expense of gasoline. The customers are mostly in Central America and South America.
"Notwithstanding disappointing U.S. demand, the worldwide merchant demand for U.S.-produced fuel is strong," Kloza said.
Five years ago, U.S. imports of refined fuels outpaced exports by a 3 million barrels a day, according to Energy Department statistics. Two years ago, fuel imports into the U.S. were still outpacing exports by 1.5 million barrels a day.
The most recent statistics show exports of refined products from the U.S. outpacing imports by 476,000 barrels a day.
"That figure is a new modern-day record. We are a net exporter now. If not for high prices in the U.S., it would be something to cheer about in terms of helping the deficit. But in the U.S., it's just going to get under people's skin. It's like we're selling off our birthright," Kloza said.
In other energy news, U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude oil for October delivery tumbled $2.04 to $84.41 a barrel during trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices have fallen 7.6% so far in 2011. The European benchmark, Brent North Sea crude, rose $1.07 to $111.15 a barrel on the ICE Futures Exchange in London.
-- Ronald D. White
Image: A graphic tracks the AAA's rolling 12-month average price for a gallon of regular gasoline. Credit: AAA