chart showing U.S. hydrocarbon gas liquid production, imports, exports, and consumption, 2000-2014
chart showing U.S. hydrocarbon gas liquid exports by type, 2000-2014

Did you know?

Most of the natural gasoline exported from the United States to Canada actually returns to the United States in the crude oil that the United States imports from Canada. Natural gasoline is added to heavy crude oil so that it will flow easier in pipelines and at rail terminals.

Imports of hydrocarbon gas liquids help meet seasonal and regional demand

The United States typically produces more hydrocarbon gas liquids (HGL) than it uses on an annual basis. However, sometimes imports of HGL are necessary to supply high, seasonal demand and to supply some regions of the country that are not supplied sufficiently by domestic sources. Certain HGL, such as propylene, are also imported because U.S. production is insufficient to satisfy total petrochemical demand. In 2014, HGL imports of 142,600 barrels per day (b/d) accounted for about 7.5% of total U.S. imports of petroleum products (does not include crude oil). More than 62% of the HGL imports were propane. Normal butane and isobutane together accounted for slightly more than 10% of the HGL imports, followed by natural gasoline at slightly less than 10%. Olefins together contributed about 17% of the HGL import volumes.

Most U.S. imports of propane and butanes are received by rail from Canada into the Midwest and Northeast regions of the United States. These imports are highly seasonal, with two-thirds of all imports occurring October through March. This reflects propane's use as a heating fuel, and butanes' use in gasoline blending during colder months when gasoline vapor pressure requirements allow its use in higher quantities. In 2014, 93% of U.S. HGL imports were received from Canada, and the rest was imported on ships from overseas. In 2014, U.S. HGL imports were only one-fifth as large as U.S. HGL exports.

Exports of hydrocarbon gas liquids have increased substantially since 2007

Exports of HGL increased from about 70,000 b/d in 2007 to 703,000 b/d in 2014, which was equal to 18% of total U.S. exports of petroleum products in 2014. These exports were largely driven by annual U.S. production exceeding annual U.S. demand. The increases in HGL production were largely the result of increases in production of wet natural gas from shale gas and tight oil resources. Propane accounted for about 60% of the total HGL exports in 2014, and natural gasoline (pentanes plus) accounted for about 24%. Between 2011 and 2014, exports of HGL accounted for more than half of all growth in petroleum product exports out of the United States.

Propane was exported from the United States to 52 countries in 2014. These are the top five destinations and their share of total U.S. propane exports:

  • Mexico—15%
  • Japan—12%
  • Brazil—12%
  • Netherlands—11%
  • Panama—7%

In 2014, 99% of natural gasoline exports were sent to Canada, with the remainder exported to 29 countries in minor quantities as a denaturant in fuel ethanol. Most of the natural gasoline exported to Canada is mixed into the oil produced from oil sands in Alberta, Canada, so that the oil can be transported by pipelines and rail, primarily to U.S. destinations.