Bit by bit, the U.S. petroleum industry is turning world oil markets inside out.
First, sharp drops in U.S. imports of crude oil eroded the biggest market that producers like OPEC had relied on for many years. Now, surging U.S. exports — largely banned by Washington until just two years ago — challenge the last region OPEC dominates: Asia.
U.S. oil shipments to China have surged, creating trade between the world's two biggest powers that until 2016 just did not exist, and helping Washington in its effort to reduce the nation's huge trade deficit with China.
The transformation is reflected in figures released in recent days that shows the U.S. now produces more oil than top exporter Saudi Arabia and means the Americans are likely to take over the No.1 producer spot from Russia by the end of the year.
The growth has surprised even the official U.S. Energy Information Administration, which this week raised its 2018 crude output forecast to 10.59 million bpd, up by 300,000 bpd from their last forecast just a week before.
When U.S. oil exports appeared in 2016, the first cargoes went to free trade agreement partners South Korea and Japan. Few expected China to become a major buyer.
Data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows U.S. crude shipments to China went from nothing before 2016 to a record 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) in January, worth almost $1 billion. Additionally, half a million tonnes of U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) worth almost $300 million, headed to China from the U.S. in January.