The U.S. soon could hand off the title of world’s top crude oil importer to China, perhaps as early as this year.
In 2015, China imported an average of 6.7 million barrels of crude every day, an 8.8 percent year-on-year increase. That could rise to 7.5 million barrels a day this year, Fulian Zhong, vice president of Unipec, a Chinese trader that is a subsidiary of Sinopec, predicted Thursday during a seminar in Beijing. The U.S., meanwhile, has been relying less on imports. It imported an average of 7.3 million barrels of crude a day in 2015 vs. 9.2 million in 2010.
In February, the Asian nation imported a record 8 million barrels daily of crude oil, for a total of 31.8 million metric tons that represented 24.4 percent growth over February 2015. Slowing economic growth has not diminished China’s appetite for oil, in part because of continued low prices combined with governmental efforts to stockpile petroleum reserves.
In 2015, more than half of China’s top 10 suppliers were in the Middle East, Bloomberg reported. This year, the country has relied increasingly on Saudi Arabia and Oman for its supply of crude, cutting back on barrels from Venezuela and Colombia.
— Tina Davis (@tina_davis) March 31, 2016
Local independent refineries in China, known as teapot refiners, that have import quotas also are filling up, purchasing more and more of their crude from neighbors like Indonesia and Vietnam. These teapot refiners constitute 10-12 percent of China’s total crude imports, the Wall Street Journal reported.
China's refined fuel stocks rose 17.3 percent in February over the previous month, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported. Commercial crude oil stocks rose 1.1 percent.
As demand grows in China, however, it has fallen on the U.S. front. Oil prices have fallen from a high of $105 a barrel in June 2014 to less than $27 a barrel in January and are expected to fluctuate from $30 to $40 a day in coming months, yet domestic output has remained above 9 million barrels a day, with a surge in offshore production even as shale oil production has fallen.