China to surpass U.S. as world’s top crude importer, OPEC says

China is on course to overtake the U.S. as the world’s top crude importer by 2014, as the Asian country’s growing refining capacity boosts demand and America’s fracking boom cuts the need for foreign oil, OPEC said today.

Imports to China may surpass 6 million barrels a day by the end of this year, according to an e-mailed report from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. U.S. oil imports declined 21% last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Shipments may drop below 6 million a day in 2014, according to OPEC.

“People have been anticipating this for the better part of a decade,” said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research in Winchester, Massachusetts. “The Chinese top leadership, and especially the military, worries a lot about their energy import dependence. It’s not clear how high it will go but it will certainly keep rising for the foreseeable future.”

China’s imports rose 1.3% in December to 5.57 million barrels a day, OPEC said. The country may meet 60% of its oil needs with foreign crude this year, according to the report.

The U.S. produced 84% of its own energy last year as advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, unlocked oil and gas trapped in deep underground rock formations, EIA data show. Domestic crude output reached 7.159 million barrels a day last month, the most since July 1992.

Bloomberg News

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