America's oil boom is shrinking the country's trade deficit and helping meet a nearly four-decade goal of stemming the rapid flow of cash overseas.
The trade gap in December dropped to a three-year low of $38.5 billion, down from $48.6 billion in November, as exports increased and imports decreased, according to data released this week from the U.S. Commerce Department and the Energy Information Administration.
For the year, the trade deficit dropped to $540 billion, improved from a shortfall of nearly $560 billion in 2011 and about $700 billion in 2005.
For decades, Americans have spent more on importing goods and services than other countries have spent on buying what we produce.
The country's dependence on foreign oil has been a key part of the equation. The oil and natural gas boom over the past five years has quickly worked to change the pattern.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank this week said the improving trade deficit has helped support the creation of more than 6 million private sector jobs over the past three years.
“This work is more important than ever — particularly with global economic headwinds affecting the rate of export growth across the board,” Blank said.
The deficit benefited from increasing exports and decreasing imports. Both categories had many factors, but both were fueled largely by domestic oil production.
The petroleum deficit in December fell to $18.7 billion, the lowest since August 2009.
Overall imports fell to almost $225 billion in December, down $6.2 billion from November.
Oil imports have fallen steadily since 2006, dipping to 8.13 million barrels a day in November, which is a level unseen since 1996.
U.S. oil producers recovered nearly 6.9 million barrels of oil per day in November, the highest level since August 1992.
While imports decreased, exports grew.
The country's total exports improved in December by $3.9 billion, to $186.4 billion.
The growth was led by a 3.6 percent gain in refined petroleum products — mostly diesel — to nearly 2.8 million barrels per day.
Diesel exports to Brazil alone jumped 59 percent through the first 11 months of 2012, climbing to 255,000 barrels a day.
For the year, total U.S. goods and services exports in 2012 grew by $92.6 billion to reach a record of $2.2 trillion.