First quarter domestic petroleum deliveries (a measure of demand) fell 3.4% from a year ago to 19.2 million barrels per day, the lowest for any first quarter since 1998, according to information from the American Petroleum Institute (API).
That level contrasted with the first-quarter high of 20.8 million barrels per day reached in 2005, from which deliveries so far in 2009 have fallen short by nearly 8%. The substantial, four-year decline means that the US share of world oil consumption fell from nearly 25% in the first quarter of 2005 to under 23% in early 2009, based on International Energy Agency world estimates, according to data from the API Monthly Statistical Report.
More than half the first quarter's year-to-year decline of nearly 700,000 barrels per day was accounted for by shrinking demand for distillate fuel oil, including both diesel and heating oil.
Distillate deliveries slid 8.5% from a year ago, reflecting sobering economic conditions that cut demand for highway freight transportation and for other uses of diesel fuel. Jet fuel deliveries fell nearly as much in percentage terms, with a drop of 7.6%. With gasoline deliveries eking out a modest increase of 0.8% for the quarter, residual fuel oil was the only product to show an increase of any size, at 14.3%.
With lagging demand, inputs at refineries slipped 2.6% from a year ago for the quarter and a lesser 0.9% for March alone.
Gasoline production, which includes ethanol blended at terminals, nevertheless rose 1.5% from a year ago for the quarter.
Distillate output, even with the decline in domestic demand, was up more than 4% to a new first-quarter high of 4.17 million barrels per day. However, jet fuel production fell 3.5% from the same quarter a year ago, and residual output was down more than 10%.
In March, domestic crude oil production again moved upward, marking a 7.2% increase from a year ago. At nearly 5.5 million barrels per day, it was at its highest monthly level since May 2005.
Although Alaskan production was down half a percent from a year ago, lower 48 states' output surpassed 4.7 million barrels per day for the first time in almost six years. That put it 8.5% above year-ago levels, the largest year-to-year increase since the recovery from 2005 hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Crude production was up in several regions, most notably in the Gulf of Mexico.
Total imports of crude oil and products slipped to 12.8 million barrels per day for the first quarter. That was 0.3% below a year ago, making it the lowest for the first quarter in five years. Imports of crude and products had reached a first-quarter high of 13.4 million barrels per day in 2006. Even though product imports rose 3.6% from a year earlier, that was more than offset by slower crude oil imports, which slipped to their lowest first-quarter level in six years.
Imports of gasoline, including blending components, were up nearly 15% in the first quarter compared with a year ago to 1.14 million barrels per day, narrowly exceeding the first-quarter record set in 2006.
Distillate imports rose nearly 16% for the quarter against weaker levels a year ago to just over 300,000 barrels per day. Residual imports surged 27% to nearly half a million barrels per day, while jet fuel imports dwindled to 76,000 barrels per day for the quarter.
Crude oil inventories, after slipping seven million barrels during February, more than recovered that lost ground with a rise of 17 million barrels in March. This brought crude inventories to 363 million barrels, the highest for any month since August 1990 and nearly 80 million barrels above the 286 million barrel low seen in December 2007.
Distillate inventories, which have more often risen than declined from month to month over the past year, inched downward by about 1 million barrels during March. This nevertheless left them at 143 million barrels, one-third higher than a year ago and the highest for the end of the first quarter in 28 years.
Gasoline inventories rose a little over 2 million barrels during the month to 218 million barrels. That was the second-highest March level over the past five years, surpassed only by March 2008.