As new debates over pipelines and oil trains heat up, I’ve been asked by all kinds of folks about the nature and history of US oil exports. So as a reference, here’s a quick look at some of the fundamentals.

The US exports very little crude oil. Yet shipments of refined petroleum products—gasoline, jet fuel, diesel and the like—have skyrocketed to levels quadruple those just a few years ago.

sightline_petroleum exports

The red line indicates “Finished Petroleum Products,” the blue line indicates “Crude Oil and Petroleum Products” and I exclude “Natural Gas Liquids and Liquid Refinery Gases.”

Let’s take a closer look at the components of the blue line, above. Over the last 20 years—the longest period for which country-specific data are available—the vast majority of US crude oil exports stayed close to home.

Sightline_crude oil exports

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  • About half moved to Canada and more than a quarter went to the Virgin Islands. Another 20 percent or so made its way to four major Asian economies, mostly during the late-1990s.

    The real export activity is in refined petroleum products. Over the last decade—the longest period for which country-specific data are available—more than 90 percent of US exports has gone to the 31 countries shown here. [Click the chart to enlarge it.]

    Sightline_refined product exports

    Of those exports, about two-thirds went to countries in the Western hemisphere with notable volumes going to Europe and East Asia plus a few other destinations.

    All data in this post come from the US Energy Information Administration, here.