In January, the US supplied the equivalent of almost one in every four barrels of crude processed by UK oil refineries, or 264,000 barrels per day, illustrating the outsized role American oil now has in Britain’s energy mix, The Financial Times reported on Wednesday.
That level was more than Norway, Russia, Nigeria or Algeria, according to data from the cargo-tracking company Kpler, which have all been major suppliers to the UK in recent years. Meanwhile, operators in the UK portion of the North Sea have battled to stem production declines.
While monthly export volumes can be volatile, the rising volume of US crude heading to the UK is part of a trend since Washington lifted widespread restrictions on exports in 2015.
In 2018, the average volume of US crude exported to the UK doubled to 160,000 bpd, second only to Norway over the course of the year and up from less than 20,000 bpd in 2016.
“We’re likely to see more US exports to the UK,” said Prof. Paul Stevens, an energy expert and fellow at Chatham House.
“It’s geography — why sail further than you need to when the UK is the first big market the US can reach?” he added.
The surge in US crude supplies comes as the country’s production has risen close to 12 million bpd, up from just five million bpd a decade ago, thanks largely to oil supplies from shale formations that have been exploited through advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
That has allowed Washington to pursue a policy that the Trump administration has dubbed “American energy dominance”, with the country overtaking Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer, as well as becoming a major gas supplier.
Shipments overseas have leapt since the US lifted restrictions on exports that had been in place since the Arab oil embargoes of the 1970s, with Washington keen to reap the economic benefits and wield its energy clout as a tool of foreign policy.
The country’s oil exports averaged 1.9 million bpd in 2018, about twice the amount that was exported in 2017, according to the Energy Information Administration.
While oil analysts say the jump in exports to Britain has primarily been driven by economics, the country’s growing reliance on one supplier may still raise questions at a time when UK trade policy is already in flux due to Brexit.
US exports to the UK peaked in 1957 after President Dwight Eisenhower authorised 300,000 bpd of shipments to relieve shortages caused by the shutdown of the Suez Canal, partly in return for the UK and France agreeing to withdraw troops, according to the book Risk-Taking in International Politics by Rose McDermott.
The UK has a diverse range of oil suppliers, with more than 50 countries having exported crude to the country in the past three years, but others closer to home such as Norway may feel they are losing out. Norway’s crude exports to the UK, which alongside domestic production have made up the bulk of the feedstock for the country’s 1.1m bpd of daily refining activity, fell by 13 per cent last year.