Is Venezuela selling oil to China instead of to the U.S.?

The United States is importing less oil from Venezuela, and China is buying more. Is Venezuela putting its resources where Hugo Chávez’s mouth is and using the country’s major export as a geopolitical lever? Or are U.S. imports just catching up with a 10-year decline in Venezuelan production?

The U.S. Energy Information Administration released April data on Monday, revealing that imports of crude and petroleum from Venezuela in the first four months of 2008 fell 10.7 percent from the same period last year—from about 1.3 million barrels/day to about 1.16 million b/d.

If we take a longer-term view of U.S. imports of Venezuelan crude and petroleum, the drop is even more significant: Venezuela sold about 1.6 million b/d to the United States in January–April of 2005, as it had since the mid-1990s (except in the oil strike years of 2000 and 2003). This means that Venezuelan sales to the United States have declined 30 percent over the past three years. Why?

AP’s Rachel Jones reports that the drop is likely due to three factors: (1) falling demand in the United States, (2) falling production in Venezuela, and (3) Venezuela’s decision to sell more oil to China. Does this make sense? Let’s take a closer look at the numbers:

  1. Total U.S. oil imports in January–April 2008 dropped 2.5 percent compared with the same period last year (you can download the raw data here, or check out the Transpacifica digest below (after the jump). This, then, might explain one-fourth of the decline in imports from Venezuela.
  2. There are no reliable numbers on Venezuelan oil production, but those that exist (for example, the monthly OPEC report) indicate at most a 2 percent drop in production from last year—which, like the change in U.S. demand, would explain only part of the 10.7 percent drop in sales. Over the past 10 years, however, Venezuelan production has declined about 25 percent—about the same as the change in U.S. imports over the past three years (according to EIA data here).
  3. The AP report states that Venezuela now sends 250,000 b/d to China, up from next to nothing a few years ago. The story does not source this figure, and PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company, recently stated that China buys 398,000 b/d, as a result of increased CNPC operations. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said that the country plans to sell China 1 million b/d by 2012.

Is China buying 250,000 b/d or more of Venezuelan oil? If so, does that purchase explain declining sales to the United States? Or would sales have declined anyway, as a result of falling production in Venezuela? What is the role of Chávez’s oil donations to countries throughout the region? Perhaps there are other explanations. If the United States wants control over how much oil it buys from Venezuela, the answer is critical.

Transpacifica Digest of EIA Data
All amounts in millions
Year Total U.S. Imports, Jan-April Average barrels/day Percent change in U.S. imports U.S. Imports from Venezuela, Jan-April Average barrels/day Percent Change in U.S. Imports from Venezuela
1993 991 8.25 155 1.29
1994 1,022 8.51 3.15% 150 1.25 -3.47%
1995 1,015 8.46 -0.63% 172 1.44 14.93%
1996 1,098 9.08 8.18% 196 1.62 13.50%
1997 1,179 9.82 7.31% 201 1.68 2.92%
1998 1,238 10.32 5.03% 204 1.70 1.22%
1999 1,300 10.84 5.04% 193 1.61 -5.19%
2000 1,323 10.93 1.73% 183 1.51 -5.16%
2001 1,471 12.26 11.20% 199 1.66 8.65%
2002 1,349 11.24 -8.28% 163 1.36 -18.19%
2003 1,401 11.68 3.87% 119 0.99 -26.73%
2004 1,540 12.73 9.88% 192 1.58 60.58%
2005 1,602 13.35 4.04% 194 1.61 0.96%
2006 1,611 13.42 0.53% 182 1.51 -6.20%
2007 1,611 13.42 0.00% 157 1.31 -13.34%
2008 1,570 12.98 -2.50% 140 1.16 -10.69%

2 thoughts on “Is Venezuela selling oil to China instead of to the U.S.?

  1. Miguel Octavio

    Venezuela created a “fund” with the Chinese Government last December that will provide 80,000 barrels of Venezuelan oil per day to pay Chinese companies for infrastructure projects. Add to that the lower production and some additional exports and the numbers make sense.

  2. Juan Cristobal

    The estimate sounds right, although I wonder if this also has something to do with a decision by Exxon-Mobil to stop buying as much oil from Venezuela due to their current feud…


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