Both the level of U.S. crude exports and the number of destinations increased on a yearly basis in 2018, according to the country's Energy Information Administration (EIA) data.
U.S. crude oil exports rose to 2 million barrels per day (mbpd) last year, from 1.2 mbpd the year before, posting a 67% increase, the EIA data showed.
The number of U.S.' crude export destinations also increased reaching 42 in 2018, compared to 37 countries in 2017, and 10 up from the 27 in 2016, according to the data.
"Export volumes by destination changed significantly during the year, as U.S. crude oil exports to China fell and exports to other destinations such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Canada increased," the EIA said in a statement on April 15.
South Korea was the top destination to receive U.S. crude oil exports in 2018 with 236,000 bpd, while China ranked second with 228,000 bpd.
Although Asia was the biggest region for U.S. crude exports in 2018, Canada was the largest recipient of American crude exports. The neighbor in the north received 378,000 bpd of crude oil from the U.S. last year, representing 19% of total U.S. crude oil exports in 2018.
- US-China tensions hinder exports
Although China was the second top destination for U.S. crude exports in 2018, the volume of exports was negatively affected by rising trade tensions between the U.S. and China last year, with both countries imposing additional tariffs on each other.
China was the largest single destination for U.S. crude oil exports during the first half of 2018, as Washington exported 376,000 bpd of crude oil to Beijing over that period. This level significantly fell to an average of 83,000 bpd in the second half of last year.
In August, September, and October of 2018, the U.S. exported no crude oil to China, but exports resumed in the final two months of the year at much lower volumes, according to the EIA.
"In the summer of 2018, as part of ongoing trade negotiations between the U.S. and China, China temporarily included U.S. crude oil on a list of goods potentially subject to an increase in import tariffs," the statement said.
However, the statement also showed that as U.S. crude oil exports to China fell, exports to South Korea, Taiwan, Canada, and India increased.
- Rising U.S. production
Much of the increase in U.S. crude exports was a result of the country's crude oil production reaching a record high level of 10.96 mbpd last year-- a 17% increase from 9.35 mbpd in 2017.
Another significant reason behind the surge in crude exports was the lower price of American benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) compared to international benchmark Brent crude, which resulted in the U.S. gaining a competitive edge.
Brent oil price averaged $71.19 per barrel in 2018, while WTI averaged $65.06 a barrel -- a difference of $6.13 per barrel, or 8.6% lower.
- Exports on rise
Despite rising shale oil production in the U.S., the country's self-imposed ban on crude oil sales overseas prevented exports until December 2015.
The ban was introduced during the 1970s after Arab oil-producing states placed an embargo on the U.S. and its western allies during the OPEC oil crisis in 1973.
With the embargo, domestic crude oil had long been considered a significant commodity for the U.S.' energy security, until former U.S. President Barack Obama lifted the ban in December 2015.
After the lifting of the ban, U.S. crude export levels gradually increased, first to average 591,000 bpd in 2016, and then to 1.16 million bpd in 2017.
On a monthly basis, crude oil exports from the country superseded 2 mbpd in May 2018, and reached its monthly highest average of 2.61 mbpd in November 2018, according to the EIA's data.
On a weekly basis, the country's exports of crude oil reached a record high of 3.61 million bpd for the week ending Feb. 15, 2019, the EIA data showed.
By Ovunc Kutlu