Refiners on East, Gulf Coasts Scaling Back Oil Imports

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The ongoing slide in U.S. crude oil imports, which this year are expected to fall to the lowest levels since 1996, primarily reflects reduced shipments to refiners along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico, the Energy Information Administration said.

On the Gulf Coast, home to about half of the nation's refining capacity, crude imports averaged 4.5 million barrels a day in 2012, or about 58% of total oil processed, the EIA said in its This Week in Petroleum report. In 2005, imported crude accounted for 80% of Gulf Coast refiner "runs."

Energy Department numbers indicate that trend "is continuing and accelerating in 2013," the report said. During the four weeks ended March 1, Gulf Coast oil imports dropped below 3.4 million barrels a day, the lowest four-week average since 1992.

On the East Coast, large price differentials between landlocked oil with growing production, such as that from North Dakota's Bakken formation, and global seaborne crudes linked to the Brent grade have encouraged refiners to bring more domestically produced crude via rail recently, the report said.

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