NEW YORK: When it comes to supplying the United States with oil, Africa is quietly trumping the Middle East.
U.S. crude oil imports from Africa topped supplies from the Middle East in 2006 for the first time in 21 years, recent government data show. As recently as 2001, U.S. imports from the Middle East surpassed African supplies by more than 10%, or 1.3 million barrels a day. Now, the fractional edge given to African crude oil suppliers underscores a number of market changes and may grow wider in coming years.
Surging growth from Asia, led by China, where oil demand is expected to grow 6.2 % this year, is drawing huge volumes of Middle East crude. In the U.S. market, output constraints from aging oil fields in Mexico and Venezuela are weighing on imports from those countries.
Crude supplies from Africa and the Middle East each accounted for a 22% share of U.S. crude imports, but in actual physical supplies, Africa’s flow topped the Middle East by 8,000 barrels a day.
Crude from Africa, at 2.23 million barrels a day, was the highest since 1979 and a 4.8% jump from 2005. The 22% share, the biggest in 25 years, compares with 21 percent last year and a share of less than 13% in 2002.
The volume of U.S. crude imports from the Middle East, at 2.22 million barrels a day, dipped just 20,000 barrels a day on the year, but marks the third straight annual decline. The flow of Middle East crude into the United States was at the lowest level since 1998 and the 22% share is the slimmest since 1997.
“Strong demand growth in Asia is pulling Persian Gulf crude eastward and the new supply from Africa is staying in the Atlantic Basin,” said Greg Priddy, global energy analyst at the Eurasia Group in Washington, D.C.
Major producers such as Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, and other Middle East producers have targeted more volumes to China and India, where they’ve also built joint ventures to sell petroleum products.
Saudi Arabia saw its third straight decline in crude supply to the U.S. market, with a 1.7% dip to 1.42 million barrels a day, the lowest volume since 1999.
Supplies from other traditional top suppliers Mexico and Venezuela are raising concern, due to declines in output. U.S. crude imports from output-constrained Caracas slumped 8.2 %. While Venezuela held its fourth-place ranking among U.S. crude suppliers, the volume of 1.139 million barrels a day was the lowest in any year since 1994.
Oil producers in Africa have picked up the slack. U.S. crude imports from Angola surged 41% in December from a year earlier, capping a 12.5% full-year gain to a record average of 513,000 barrels a day.
U.S. crude imports from Algeria jumped 57% to 357,000 barrels a day in 2006, the highest volume since 1980.
For the second straight year, crude imports from Chad rose by nearly 30 %, reaching a high of 95,000 barrels a day in 2006.
However, U.S. imports from Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer, dropped 3.2 % on the year to 1.043 million barrels a day, the lowest level since 2003 as civil unrest in the oil-producing Delta region disrupted supplies throughout the year.
Canada remains the top U.S. crude supplier, a title it has held each year since 2004, when it eclipsed Saudi Arabia. In 2006, Canada supplied 1.782 million barrels a day to the United States, the most ever from a single source and a 9.1% jump from a year ago.