Propane: Top US petroleum product export in 2020

April 6, 2021 By    

U.S. exports of propane in 2020 reached record levels, increasing 13 percent and surpassing distillate fuel oil as the country’s top petroleum product export, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Petroleum Supply Monthly. U.S. exports of distillate fuel oil fell to their lowest level since 2016.

EIA export chart

Propane surpassed distillate fuel oil as the country’s top petroleum product export in 2020.

The increase in propane exports was driven by strong petrochemical and heating demand in Asia during a year of more U.S. production and less U.S. consumption. The U.S. experienced warmer-than-normal heating seasons in both the first and final months of the year, resulting in lower domestic propane consumption than in the previous two years.

Although natural gas and crude oil production fell in the U.S. during 2020, propane production at natural gas processing plants increased 5.6 percent from 2019, which more than outweighed the decline in refinery production of propane. 

In 2020, 76 percent of U.S. propane was produced at natural gas processing plants; the remaining 24 percent was produced at petroleum refineries.

Propane production outside the U.S. decreased because major exporters such as Saudi Arabia and Russia reduced their propane production as a result of crude oil curtailments; most propane production in these countries is associated with crude oil. Expanded U.S. export capacity, along with increased domestic production and lower domestic consumption, allowed the U.S. to fill the supply gap and capture greater global market share. U.S. export capacity grew by an average of 330,000 barrels per day (bpd) during the second half of 2020.

In contrast, distillate fuel oil exports, which usually account for the largest share of U.S. petroleum product exports, decreased in 2020. U.S. distillate exports of 733,000 bpd in May 2020 were the lowest for any month since June 2011, mostly because of less global demand. Distillate demand and production remained relatively low for the remainder of the year, unlike propane demand and production.

About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at or 216-706-3748.

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