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US oil imports are back where they were in the late 1970s

The sun begins to rise behind a pump jack and natural gas flare, Friday, Dec. 19, 2014, near Williston, N.D. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
AP Photo/Eric Gay
Slowing down in the gas patch, but consumers are picking up the slack.
By Matt Phillips
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Here’s a bit of context on how radically the US energy picture has shifted over the last year.

US imports of crude oil have tumbled to levels that were the norm back in the late 1970s. In November, the US imported just 189 million barrels of crude oil, versus 188 million barrels in November 1976. The last time we’ve had readings this low was in 1994.

Why? Domestic production—which has surged in recent years as drillers were able to better tap oil trapped in shale formations—as well as conservation policies, which have decreased the amount of oil the US economy needs to burn as it grows.

Of course the US remains a net importer of crude. But increasingly it’s shipping it out as well. Crude oil exports have spiked in recent months to levels not seen in decades.

It should be said that the collapse of  oil prices over the last few months threatens to disrupt the sustainability of America’s newfound oil productivity. Oil drillers are starting to cut down on rigs, as new exploration makes much less sense with crude oil prices below $50 a barrel than it did back in August when crude was hovering above $100.

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