Awash in Gasoline, US Refiners Export Fuel at Record Pace

Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News

The United States has more gasoline than it knows what to do with.

Exports have risen above imports for three consecutive weeks as recurring pipeline outages and higher production levels by refiners caused Gulf Coast inventories to grow. Typically a net importer of gasoline, the United States has shipped a record amount of the motor fuel abroad and doesn’t show signs of stopping.

“Exports will have to be high to keep stocks under control,” Robert Campbell, head of oil products research at market consultant Energy Aspects in New York, said in an e-mail. “Runs should be quite high on the U.S. Gulf Coast in the coming weeks.”

The abundance of gasoline pushed Gulf Coast gasoline prices to an eight-month low last week and spurred the longest losing streak since 2012 in futures, making U.S. gasoline an affordable buy. That has triggered some unusual moves by refiners and traders.

Independent refiner Valero Energy Corp. shipped excess supplies to Canada instead of Colombia, and Phillips 66 sent the first gasoline shipment in 16 months to Egypt, according to shipping data and people familiar with the transactions. Oil trader Mercuria Energy Group is said to be storing a 60,000-ton parcel of gasoline blending components produced in India at an offshore site in the Bahamas.

More cargoes are sailing to typical destinations such as Mexico and Brazil, George Los, senior tanker markets analyst at Charles R. Weber Co. in Greenwich, Connecticut, said in an e-mail.

“Lower refinery utilizations in Latin America, combined with abundant export capacity on the U.S. Gulf, have made these trades attractive,” he said. “We have been seeing this for much of the year, where Latin America is absorbing the excess U.S. gasoline.”

Waterborne gasoline exports surged after Colonial Pipeline Co., the main system that moves Gulf Coast gasoline to the Eastern Seaboard, shut for six days after an Oct. 31 explosion. The outage, which backed up almost 8 million barrels of the motor fuel that normally would flow to states in the Southeast and along the Atlantic coast, came less than two months after a pipeline leak triggered a 12-day one in September.

U.S. gasoline exports reached 1.07 million barrels a day in the week ended Nov. 4, the first time the figure has topped 1 million in Energy Information Administration data going back to 2010. ClipperData, which tracks crude and products globally, also counted exports above 1 million barrels a day after the Colonial blast.

“We expected them to be strong in the aftermath of the Colonial Pipeline outage as gasoline inventories swell,” Matt Smith, ClipperData’s director of commodity research, said via e-mail from New York.

Shipments rose 35% in the week ended Nov. 4 and have almost doubled since the Sept. 9 Colonial outage. But the latter move corresponds with a late-August adjustment in how EIA calculates its export data. The agency shifted to using near real-time Customs data rather than extrapolating from monthly estimates.

Still, two other records were set simultaneously: U.S. refiners and gasoline blenders churned out 10.5 million barrels of gasoline a day, and Gulf Coast inventories of the motor fuel climbed to the highest seasonal level ever. Meanwhile, driving demand slid about 2%.