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U.S. fuel exports hit new record in August

November 11, 2011 | 12:23 pm

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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 2003, U.S. refiners exported a little more than 100,000 barrels of fuel a day, primarily to Central America and South America, the federal Energy Department said. Since then, that figure has soared, reaching 656,000 barrels a day in 2010, marking a seventh straight record year. This year, export volume has moved further into record territory. It averaged 730,000 barrels a day through the first six months of the year.

In August, the latest month for which Energy Department data is available, those exports jumped again, to a record 895,000 barrels a day during one of the busiest months of the summer driving season in the U.S.

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 department said in a recent report. "According to the International Energy Agency, from 2000 through 2008 (the last year for which a complete set of global data exists), global diesel consumption increased by 23%."

Where are the exports going? The Netherlands (146,000 barrels a day) is the biggest buyer, followed by Mexico (112,000 barrels), Panama (63,000), Brazil (56,000), Colombia (54,000), France (42,000) and Peru (41,000).

Why are record diesel exports affecting gasoline prices? The Energy Department says surging diesel prices have "provided incentives to refiners to shift some production away from gasoline."

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

In California, the average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline today is $3.839. That's 70.4 cents a gallon higher than a year ago and 47.3 cents a gallon higher than 2007's record level.

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

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— Ronald D. White

Photo: A Conoco-Phillips oil refinery in Wilmington, Del. U.S. exports of refined fuels rose to a fresh record in August. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

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