Saturday, December 03, 2016

U.S. Oil Exports Skyrocket Despite Climate Pacts

An oil well in Colorado. (Credit: C.L. Baker/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Seven years ago, the U.S. exported its crude oil to just one country — Canada.  This year, 22 countries received American crude oil, marking a more than 1,000 percent increase in U.S. oil exports since 2009, according to U.S. Department of Energy data released this week.

Since Congress lifted restrictions on American oil exports a year ago, more and more U.S. crude oil has been streaming onto the global oil market to supply the world’s growing demand.  It’s happening even as the U.S. and Canada have agreed to cut emissions from oil and gas operations and countries agree to cut their greenhouse gas pollution under the Paris Climate Agreement.  The international pact aims to prevent global warming from exceeding 2°C (3.6°F).

The oil-friendly policies of the incoming Trump administration are not expected to significantly affect U.S. crude oil exports because the price of oil will largely determine the pace of  U.S. exports and production.  This week, OPEC announced it would cut its production in a move to raise global oil prices, which could boost U.S. exports even more.

Where crude oil is shipped and refined, and how it is burned, are major factors in the emissions that drive climate change.  Crude oil is the world’s second-largest source of carbon dioxide emissions — responsible for 33 percent of global carbon emissions.  Oil ranks just behind coal, which emits 46 percent of the world’s man-made carbon dioxide, International Energy Agency data show.

Congress imposed restrictions on U.S. oil exports in 1975 following the Arab oil embargo, preventing oil drilled from any U.S. state except Alaska from being exported overseas.  Amid slumping oil prices and flagging U.S. production, Congress lifted the export restrictions last year.

The effect has been dramatic.

During the first nine months of 2016, overall U.S. oil exports increased by about 8 percent over the same period in 2015 and more than 1,284 percent since 2009, according to EIA data.  Until this year, Canada received most U.S. oil exports.

Since restrictions were lifted last December, oil exports to Canada have fallen by more than half.  American crude is shipped to Curacao, China, South Korea, Italy, Spain, Singapore, the Netherlands and 16 other countries.

Though the U.S. is among the world’s top oil producers, it imports about 10 times more oil than it exports.  The U.S. has imported about 7.3 million barrels of oil every day throughout 2016, while U.S. oil exports have been rising from 364,000 barrels per day in January to 694,000 barrels per day in September, EIA data show.

Quantifying the full climate impact of U.S. oil being traded globally is complicated.  The Government Accountability Office reported in 2014 that the research it reviewed shows that lifting restrictions on U.S. oil exports would increase U.S. man-made carbon dioxide emissions by between 12 million and 22 million metric tons annually because of increased oil production. That’s a small fraction of the nearly 5.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide the U.S. emits each year from its energy consumption.

But oil exports also directly affect which country gets to count the oil against its carbon budget and emissions reductions commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement.

The agreement, which was ratified this year, requires countries to cut emissions from crude oil and other sources in order to keep global warming from exceeding 2°C (3.6°F).  The method the United Nations uses to attribute carbon emissions to specific countries allows each nation’s emissions to be counted where they occur, allowing countries to export fossil fuels around the globe without having to account for the emissions from burning them.

Read more at U.S. Oil Exports Skyrocket Despite Climate Pacts

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