Imports of petroleum product into the United States increased in March 2021 as a result of increased demand, temporary unplanned refinery outages in the US Gulf Coast, and high US petroleum product prices compared with prices in Europe, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).
According to the EIA May Petroleum Supply Monthly (PSM), which includes complete petroleum product import data through March 2021, US petroleum product imports averaged 2.5 million barrels per day (b/d) in March, the highest average for any month since July 2019.
According to data from the EIS Weekly Petroleum Supply Report (WPSR), this increase in petroleum product imports continued through April and May, likely as a result of increasing petroleum product demand, high US petroleum product spot price spreads with Europe, and the Colonial Pipeline outage.
The four-week rolling average for U.S. petroleum product imports was 2.8 million b/d as of the week ending 28 May 2021.
The increase in petroleum product imports in March was concentrated in the East Coast (PADD 1). The East Coast, which accounted for 49% of US petroleum product imports from 2011 to 2020, imported 1.4 million b/d of US petroleum product imports in March—57% of the total for the month.
Petroleum product imports received in the East Coast in March reached their highest level since May 2011 and were 54% higher than the five-year (2016–2020) average for March. The East Coast received 44% more petroleum product imports in March than in February and 66% more than a year ago.
The increase in petroleum product imports into the United States has been due, in part, to short-term factors such as reduced domestic supply, increased domestic demand, and low gasoline inventories, according to the EIA. The extreme winter weather in February 2021 disrupted operations at several refineries in the US Gulf Coast, where more than half of total US refinery capacity is located, and particularly in Texas, where 5.9 million b/d (approximately 31%) of capacity is located.
US gasoline consumption increased to 8.6 million b/d in March, the highest level since February 2020 and only 7% lower than the March 2019 level of 9.2 million b/d. Distillate consumption also increased in March to 4.0 million b/d, the highest level since November 2019 and only 4% less than the March 2019 level of 4.2 million b/d. Because gasoline inventories have also been low, the United States likely relied more than usual on gasoline imports to meet rising demand.
The US average regular gasoline retail price increased nearly 1 cent to $3.03 per gallon on 31 May—$1.05 higher than the same time last year. The Midwest price increased nearly 4 cents to $2.93 per gallon, the West Coast price increased nearly 3 cents to $3.72 per gallon, and the Rocky Mountain price increased more than 1 cent to $3.16 per gallon. The Gulf Coast price decreased more than 3 cents to $2.72 per gallon, and the East Coast price decreased nearly 1 cent, remaining virtually unchanged at $2.93 per gallon.