Total US petroleum product exports set a record high in 2018 for the 16th year in a row. From 2009 to 2013, distillate exports were the largest contributors to the annual growth. However, from 2014 to 2018, exports of hydrocarbon gas liquids, which include propane, led US petroleum product export growth.
As US crude oil production rose over the past decade, gross inputs into refineries also increased. Petroleum products can be used domestically, exported, or put into inventory. In 2018, record-high levels of US crude oil production and refinery runs assisted refiners export large volumes of petroleum products, even with high levels of domestic demand.
In spite of an 80,000 b/d decrease in exports in 2018 from 2017, distillate remained the most exported petroleum product in 2018, averaging 1.3 million b/d, or about 25% of U.S. refinery net production. Distillate exports were still over 100,000 b/d higher than the previous five-year average (2013-2017). The US exported distillate to 64 destinations in 2018, with the largest volumes destined for Mexico.
In fact, Mexico received an average of 298,000 b/d, or 23% of US distillate exports, growing 42,000 b/d from 2017. Mexico's increasing exports were likely led by the country’s refineries that continued to operate below capacity in 2018.
Brazil received the second-largest share of distillate exported from the US, averaging 151,000 b/d (12% of U.S. distillate exports), a reduction of 57,000 b/d from 2017. Chile, Peru, and the Netherlands compile the top five recipients of US distillate exports.
In addition, US propane exports reached a record high of 972,000 b/d in 2018, breaking the previous record of 914,000 b/d set in 2017. Propane exports in 2018 were more than motor gasoline exports for the third consecutive year, and propane remained the second largest US petroleum product export.
Unlike other US petroleum product exports, which stay in the Western Hemisphere, large volumes of US propane often reach Asian markets, with three of the top five destinations being in Asia. Propane is used in many Asian countries as a feedstock for producing ethylene and propylene, which are building blocks for chemical and plastic manufacturing.
Namely, Japan received the largest share of US propane exports, more than 258,000 b/d (or 7%) of total US propane exports, a rise of 48,000 b/d from 2017 volumes. Exports to Korea and the Netherlands increased by 25,000 b/d and 21,000 b/d.
Nonetheless, exports to China decreased by 62,000 b/d, a 49% year-over-year decline. Mexico received the second largest share of US propane exports in 2018 at an average of 131,000 b/d, which was less by 7,000 b/d in comparison to 2017 levels.
US exports of motor gasoline reached 44 destinations in 2018 and set a record high of 951,000 b/d, up 126,000 b/d from 2017 levels. This increase came despite high levels of domestic gasoline consumption, which averaged 9.3 million b/d in 2018, only slightly less than the record-high level set in 2017.
Finally, US refiner and blender net production of finished motor gasoline grew more than 100,000 b/d to 10.1 million b/d in 2018, another record high, and contributed to the simultaneous high levels of domestic consumption and export volumes.
The five largest shares of US gasoline exports were all in the Americas. In 2018, Mexico received 529,000 b/d of US gasoline exports, or 56% of total US gasoline exports, which was 60,000 b/d more than in 2017. Exports to Canada increased by 25,000 b/d, to average 62,000 b/d, or 6% of US gasoline exports in 2018.