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The Biden Administration announced the United States will once again import oil from Venezuela, something it has only done one month in the last three years.
In fact, for the first time in at least 30 years and quite possibly closer to a century, the United States imported no oil from Venezuela in 2021. (The U.S. Census Bureau data on which I rely dates to 1992.)
Little more than a decade ago, in 2011, Venezuela ranked fourth as a source of U.S. oil imports, trailing Canada, Saudi Arabia and Mexico, respectively.
In 2021, that ranking was Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Russia.
As recently as 2015, Venezuela accounted for more than 10% of all U.S. imports.
It was just 0.02% in 2020 — when oil was imported only in the month of June, according to Census Bureau data, and 1.08% in 2019, the year that former President Donald Trump first restricted those imports from the government of Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro.
The Biden Administration move will allow Chevron
It’s important to understand three things that have changed over the years when it comes to U.S. oil importing and U.S. oil consumption.
First, the value of oil imports is little more than a third of what is was in and 2008 2011, the two record years, when it topped $350 billion and $336 billion, respectively.
Second, oil imports from Canada topped 50% of the total in 2020, a first, and again in 2021. In 2006, that percentage was below 15%.
Third, there’s a reason the value of U.S. oil imports have fallen. U.S. oil exports have grown precipitously, with the decision during the administration of former President Barack Obama to end a four-decade near-embargo on U.S. oil exports. In that time, U.S. exports have grown in value from less than $2 billion in 2009 to more than $65 billion in 2021. Oil was, in fact, the nation’s third most valuable export, trailing No. 1 gasoline and refined petroleum products and No. 2 civilian aircraft.
So, an absence of Venezuelan oil coming ashore in the United States went largely unnoticed, except of course to Chevron and the Venezuelan government.
But what has been noticed is U.S. imports of Russian oil, refined petroleum products and, for that matter, anything Russian, in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine.
As part of the West’s strategy to isolate Russia economically, the United States and many European nations are trying to minimize oil and gasoline imports from President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
The United States doesn’t import much oil from Russia, even though it ranked fourth and was growing, and its imports of refined petroleum products, while sizeable, were largely confined to a particular type of refined petroleum called bunker fuel.