U.S. Exports, Imports Up in First Quarter

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Base oil exports from the United States rose during the first quarter of 2022, compared to the same period of 2021, on the strength of increased sales into Canada. Imports were also up as higher volumes from South Korea and Indonesia helped offset a decline from Qatar.

The U.S., one of the world’s largest base oil exporters, sent 8.9 million barrels to foreign countries during the first three months of this year, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, up from 8.8 million barrels during the first quarter of last year. Outgoing shipments for the quartile have slipped from a peak of 10 million barrels in 2018 but remain substantially above the 6 million barrel range where they hovered during the first half of the 2010s.

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Mexico has long been the largest destination for U.S. base oils, by a significant margin, and remains so as it received 2.7 million barrels – or 30% of total base oil exports – during the quarter. That represented an increase from 2.6 million barrels from the first quarter of 2021. Exports from Mexico have dipped from a high of 3.3 million barrels in 2019 but are still more than twice the levels of the early 2010s.

Belgium was again the second largest receiver, but volumes shipped to that country fell from 1.4 million barrels during the first three months of 2021 to 1.1 million barrels during this year’s first quarter. Sales into Canada rose by a similar amount, from 744,000 barrels to 1 million barrels. U.S. base oil exports to Belgium are mostly API Group II oils, with Chevron the largest supplier.

Brazil is the other large destination for U.S. base oils, and volumes shipped to South America’s biggest country dipped from 1 million barrels to 867,000 barrels.

The U.S. typically imports half as much base oil as it exports, or less, and most of the volume is Group III. First quarter imports were 3.9 million barrels, up from 3.8 million barrels during the same period of 2021. South Korea supplied the largest share – 953,000 barrels, which was up from 741,000 barrels during the first quarter of 2021 but still significantly lower than the recent first quartile peak of 1.6 million barrels in 2018. SK Lubricants and S-Oil are the biggest South Korean exporters.

Imports from Indonesia and United Arab Emirates also increased – the former from 206,000 barrels to 331,000 barrels, the latter from 374,000 barrels to 464,000 barrels. Imports from Indonesia come from an SK joint venture with Pertamina, while Adnoc produces the Group III oils imported from the U.A.E.

Volumes coming from Canada and Qatar – the nation’s other two main sources – fell. Imports from Canada, supplied by HF Sinclair’s Petro-Canada unit, dipped from 959,000 barrels during 2021’s first quarter to 873,000 barrels during the same period this year. Those from Qatar, produced by Shell’s gas-to-liquids joint venture with Qatar Petroleum, slid from 981,000 barrels to 564,000 barrels.

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