chart showing U.S. hydrocarbon gas liquid production, imports, exports, and consumption, 2000-2016
chart showing U.S. hydrocarbon gas liquid exports by type, 2000-2016

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 2016, HGL imports of 180,000 barrels per day (b/d) accounted for about 8% of total U.S. imports of petroleum products (does not include crude oil). Approximately 67% of the HGL imports were propane. Normal butane and isobutane together accounted for slightly more than 12% of the HGL imports, followed by natural gasoline at slightly less than 8%. Olefins (propylene and normal butylene) together contributed about 14% of the HGL import volumes in 2016.

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 demand cycle reflects use of propane as a heating fuel and of butanes in gasoline blending during colder months when gasoline vapor pressure requirements allow its use in higher quantities. In 2016, 89% of U.S. HGL imports were from Canada, and the rest was imported on ships from overseas. In 2016, U.S. HGL imports were about one-seventh 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 1.2 million b/d in 2016, which was equal to 20% of total U.S. exports of petroleum in 2016. 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. The approximate shares of HGL exports by type

  • Propane—66%
  • Natural gasoline (pentanes plus)—17%
  • Normal butane and isobutane combined—10%
  • Ethane—8%

Propane was exported from the United States to 56 countries in 2016. The top five destinations and their share of total U.S. propane exports:

  • Japan—19%
  • Mexico—14%
  • China—12%
  • Netherlands—8%
  • South Korea—7%

In 2016, 99% of natural gasoline exports were sent to Canada. 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.