U.S. on Pace to Become Net Fuel Exporter Despite High Gasoline Prices at Home

For anyone bummed out about the United States' dependence on foreign oil, try this forecast on for size: The U.S. is on track to be a net exporter of petroleum products this year for the first time in 62 years -- and yet, domestic gas prices remain at or close to record highs for this time of year.

Data released last week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that the U.S. sent abroad 753.4 million barrels of gasoline, diesel and other oil-based fuels in the first nine months of 2011, while taking in only 689.4 million barrels.

The reason? To put it simply, Americans are relying on less, while emerging markets are demanding more.

But so far, that decreased domestic demand hasn't translated into decreased domestic prices at the pump.

“Instead of that product backing up and depressing prices, it’s being sent to other countries,” Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s good news for the refining industries and their workers and the balance of trade and U.S. jobs.”

Domestic prices at the pump are at record highs for this time of year, but are actually falling now that we've hit the holiday season. The average price of a gallon of gas is now at $3.27, according to AAA, down 11 cents from two weeks ago and down 20 cents since Halloween.

The economy plays a big role in the latest oil industry numbers. As the U.S. works to rebound from a deep recession, low economic output and high unemployment typically means low domestic demand for petroleum.

"We're not using as much," James Beck, an analyst at the EIA, told the Wall Street Journal. "Prior to 2008, basically anything we produced, we used."

And the high exporting rates are expected to continue into the foreseeable future, Dave Ernsberger, global director of oil at Platts, which tracks energy markets, told the Journal. "The conventional wisdom is that U.S. is this giant black hole sucking in energy from around the world. This changes that dynamic," he said.

The last time the U.S. exported more oil than it imported, in 1949, the country was still ramping up its economy after World War II. It became increasingly dependent on foreign oil, especially in the 1960s and 1970s.

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