An unusual finding showed up on the country's oil export records this week.
The United States exported an average of 9,000 barrels of oil per day to China in January, according to a U.S. Energy Information Administration report released this week. The government warned readers not to make too much of the news, calling it “a rare event.”
Still, the report tells an interesting story about the nation's changing oil environment.
The January oil exported to China was foreign oil loaded on a tanker ship that made a brief stop in an American port before heading back overseas. It likely was one shipment.
The United States exports only a tiny percentage of its daily oil production. Almost all of that crude flows to Canada.
It is very difficult for oil companies to export crude because they must first gain a license from the Bureau of Industry and Security and meet many other requirements. Most operators have never tried.
The process hasn't been an issue for much of the past half-century as the United States has rapidly increased its oil demand while domestic production has dropped.
Because the country used almost every drop it produced and imported much more, oil exports haven't been necessary, except for those to a few Canadian border communities.