Could US supplant Saudi Arabia as world's No. 1 oil exporter?

Trump administration actively pursuing ‘energy dominance’ regardless of what happens to oil prices

A flame torch at the Total refinery in Donges, western France
(Image credit: Jean-Sebastien Evrard/AFP/Getty Images)

The United States briefly overtook Saudi Arabia as the world’s top oil exporter for the first time this year, cementing its status as one of the world’s most important energy producers.

According to the International Energy Agency, US exports of crude oil topped three million barrels per day in June, pushing its total oil exports to nearly nine million barrels per day. This saw it overtake Saudi Arabia which cut back on energy exports as part of longstanding Opec efforts to boost prices.

While the title of Number 1 exporter passed back to Saudi Arabia in July and August, “the United States’ brief reign reflects its new status as one of the world's most influential energy producers”, says CNN Business.

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Led by shale, US production has more than doubled over the past decade, while exports have tripled since a 40-year ban on shipping crude overseas was lifted in 2015.

Last year it supplanted Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s biggest oil producer, lifting it above both its major energy rivals for the first time since 1975. By contrast imports have dropped by 25% over the past decade, meaning the US has become less reliant on foreign oil, including from the Middle East and Venezuela.

It is all “a far cry from the days when US production was on what was thought to be an irreversible downward path”, says The Washington Post.

Investor’s Business Daily says the US “could reclaim the title of top oil exporter later this year”, with the IEA estimating crude exports alone could rise 33% from June levels to as much as four million barrels a day as new export infrastructure comes online in the fourth quarter.

The energy agency’s prediction comes at a time when the US “is actively pursuing ‘energy dominance,’ regardless of what happens to oil prices”, says CNBC.

The news network says “it now appears set to flood the oil market with even more crude, putting downward pressure on prices at a time when the market is already struggling to cope with too much supply”.

Bloomberg reports that “gains in US supply are undermining efforts by OPEC and its allies, whose production cuts are in their third year in a bid to drain stockpiles”.

The swelling American output, as well as deepening concerns over global demand fuelled by a prolonged US-China trade war, have prompted a drop of almost 20% in benchmark Brent crude from an April high.

Yet the Trump administration remains unfazed. Speaking in Abu Dhabi earlier this week, the US deputy energy secretary, Dan Brouillette, said the president “often talks about energy dominance.”

“The world often asks: what does that mean? It just simply means that we are going to produce as much energy as we can, as cleanly as we can and as affordably as we can. And whatever happens to the world price of oil, whatever happens to the world price of whatever, electricity, it doesn’t really matter, then so be it,” he said.

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