Keep Our Oil at Home – U.S. Exports Oil at Record Pace

  • Published on August 22nd, 2008

A world dependent on oilL Offshore drilling and the energy crisisThis is a guest post by freelance environmental writer Tom Schueneman, publisher of

The debate on whether to lift the Congressional moratorium on offshore drilling and open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska rages on in its acrimonious glory, yet one point has been mostly drowned out in all the posturing – if we need more domestic sources of oil, then why are we exporting 1.8 million barrels of it every day?

There is at least one voice in government asking this question. Representative Edward J. Markey, Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence, sent a public letter to George Bush on Tuesday, saying, in a nutshell,

“Mr. President, keep our oil at home”

Oil exports increased to 1.806 million barrels per day in May, the last month for which data is available, an increase from 1.433 million barrels a year prior. In February of this year, oil exports reached their highest level ever, according to Markey. Almost 10% of U.S. daily consumption of oil.

Well, there you go. An instant source of domestic oil! No need to wait 10 or 12 years for oil from offshore or ANWR.

As Markey notes in his letter (pdf), the Department of Energy projects that at peak production, around 2030, offshore oil drilling would produce about 200,000 barrels per day. We currently export 9 times what increased offshore drilling is estimated to produce at its peak. Markey points out that by the time the first offshore rig produced the first drop of oil, we’ll have exported 40% of the estimated reserves in protected areas offshore.

What gives? Why this sudden clamoring for ever more sources of oil development when easier, safer, more effective options exist?

Sure, Big Oil has a stranglehold on politicians. But any entrenched status quo is hard to shake loose; doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands and go watch American Idol.

We need also to look at ourselves as a society and our own expectations. Gas goes to $4 a gallon and Americans “demand action,” assuming – demanding – that cheap gas and “easy oil” last forever. It’s time to wake up to the real world.

On one hand we criticize politicians for being “politically expedient” and on the other we crucify them if they dare to suggest that we are on an unsustainable path.

We need to ask our politicians tough questions and be willing to accept tough answers. We could start with asking why 10% of our daily oil consumption is exported instead of kept at home, and if we’d really need any offshore drilling if we simply did that?

The time for delusion and distraction is over. We get the leaders we deserve.

Ouch, now that hurts!

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About the Author

is an online publisher, editor, and freelance writer. He is the founder of and the History Blog Project, as well as publisher and site director for the Tom also contributes to numerous environmental blogs, including TriplePundit, Ecopolitology, Sustainablog, and Planetsave.   Tom's work has led him to Europe, Africa, Latin America, Canada, the South Pacific, and across the United States. His home base is San Francisco, California.
  • Tim

    I started looking for references about the Sulfur content of oil, and I found some interesting information. There is a document called the Weekly Petroleum Status Report, put out by the Energy Information Administration. The document for 29Aug2008, can be found at this link.

    This document shows that 1.711 Million Barrels were exported on average between Jan and July 2008, but of this ONLY 21 Million Barrels were crude oil. The rest was refined oil. However, we imported 13.054 Million Barrels over the same time period. This means that we are importing just under ten times more than we are exporting. On page 8 of this document the sulfur ppm (parts per million) are detailed. Please note the large amount that is over 500ppm. Now, the question that must be answered is: What is the limit of sulfur for American fuel?

    The above link contains information about the requirements about sulfur in Diesel fuel. It requires that refineries have to produce 80% of their fuel with lower than 15ppm sulfur. Lower than 15ppm, and we are taking it out of the ground with over 500ppm! That is a big reduction in the amount of sulfer, and when the oil gets too much sulfur it just cannot be reduced to 15ppm.

    So you may ask why don’t they just take the sulfur out of the fuel? Please see the references at the end of this for the answer. Also you may ask why is it just Diesel fuel with the requirement and not petroleum? The answer is that for most cars a catalytic converter can be installed to scrub the exhaust of the car before it is put out into the air. But this cannot be done for diesels yet, again see references at the end. Another question would be why don’t they just use petroleum instead of diesel? Well, one simple answer is that diesel is actually a by product of petroleum production. Also, it is more powerful than petroleum. See the following link for an explanation.

    I hope that this sheds some light on the topic. Is is not a simple solution.

    Below are some related journal/conference articles on this topic.

    Plantenga F.L., Leliveld R.G. Sulfur in fuels: More stringent sulfur specifications for fuels are driving innovation(2003) Applied Catalysis A: General, 248 (1-2), pp. 1-7.

    Orr, W.L. ; White, C.M. Geochemistry of sulfur in fossil fuels 1990 Jan 01 national meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS); 9-14 Apr 1989; Dallas, TX (United States); DOE Project

    Edwin A. Frame; Matthew G. Blanks. Exhaust Emissions From a 6.5L Diesel Engine Using Synthetic Fuel and Low-Sulfur Diesel Fuel; Interim rept. Feb-Dec 2003, SOUTHWEST RESEARCH INST SAN ANTONIO TXBELVOIR FUELS AND LUBRICANTS RESEARCH FACILITY

    Knudsen K.G., Cooper B.H., Topsoe H. Catalyst and process technologies for ultra low sulfur diesel
    (1999) Applied Catalysis A: General, 189 (2), pp. 205-215.

    Mei H., Mei B.W., Yen T.F. A new method for obtaining ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel via ultrasound assisted oxidative desulfurization
    (2003) Fuel, 82 (4), pp. 405-414.

  • Fascinating Tim. Do you have anywhere where this is documented/backed up?

  • Tim

    The reason that we export a lot of our oil is because it has high sulfur content. Sulfur is one of those things that hurts the environment. Because of this we cannot use our own oil. So we export our oil to countries without the environmental regulations that the US has, and import oil with low amounts of Sulfur. This article is very one sided and does not tell the entire store. We cannot make laws to reduce the environmental impact of fossil fuels, and then complain because those same laws cause harm to the economy.

  • Len

    I believe that the Oil Cos. have been manipulating their prices all along, greed. When demand went down because consumers cut back, truckers lost jobs, etc., Exxon/Mobil considered reducing production because of the surplus. Americans really do need to get informed with facts, not what the government poses for with their controlled media stories. I don't believe there exists/ed any shortage of fuel or greed and they are going hand in hand! I was here when there was one. People are in crisis. Oil prices of Mass Destruction! This one is real, not fabricated like the war we are in.

  • […]We consume 20.7 million barrels of oil a day, but only 40-percent of that is home grown. Considering we only own 3-percent of the world’s oil reserves, offshore contributions would barely be significant.[…]

  • My principal source, as linked to from the article, is from the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming:

    The letter Chairman Markey sent to the president is here (pdf):

  • Ruth Simerly

    Fascinating. What is the source(s) of the exported oil. Who is involved in the process?

  • Wow, this is incredible. Completely exposes the meaningless sham the ANWAR demands are. Thanks Tom.

  • Kurt Olney

    I have heard this export number thrown around before. I have not been able to find the source of this information, nor the reason for it if it is true. I am holding judgment on this until know the complete story and the sources for the facts in this article.

  • The claim is that we export heavy crude that isn't suitable for gasoline????? If thats the case, Why is diesel more exspensive than gasoline?

    The high price of diesel has more to do with high food prices, than E85.

    I'm not saying conspiracy, it just looks like business as usual for the stockholders.

    These exports are way up in 2008, right along with the price of gas, and especially diesel.