Venezuela oil shipments to USA: Get the numbers right, people

caribbean-gulf of mexico

The insane beauty of the mixing zone between pale waters of the Caribbean and darker Gulf of Mexico water, June 11, 2007. A very stretched metaphor of U.S-Venezuela trade. Also an excuse to post something pretty.

Is there anyone out there who gets the numbers right on Venezuela oil shipments to the USA? Not as far as I can tell. Everybody — Reuters, Barclays, you name it — reports a U.S. import figure that is much lower than the reality. Here’s why, and how to avoid this common error. Note: If you are frightened of Microsoft Excel, skip this post and keep reporting the wrong number. Nobody cares except me. In fact if you do it my way you will piss off your boss, because it makes Venezuela look better than the EIA numbers. So really, just ignore this post. Truth will get you in trouble.

The problem is that everybody uses this table, on the U.S. Energy Information Administration website. And they ignore this part: “Note: The data in the tables above exclude oil imports into the U.S. territories.”

Much of the Venezuelan oil shipped to the U.S. goes to the Virgin Islands. Back when this statistical series began, in the 1940s, the decision was made to consider territories as foreign countries, and count only the oil shipped to the U.S. states. When Hess and PDVSA opened the Hovensa refinery in St. Croix, the EIA kept with its old rules, so as to keep a consistent data series. (This all according to someone I talked to years ago at EIA. Honestly I don’t remember who.) However, it doesn’t work to just add up the Venezuela and Virgin Islands figures from that table, because Hovensa gets about a third of its oil from elsewhere.

So now, if you want to see the total Venezuela shipments to the U.S., including the Virgin Islands, here’s what you do.
-Go to this page.
-Download the big honkin spreadsheets for the period(s) you’re interested in
-Sort by country name (column K)
-Do a “Subtotal” where at each change in “country” you “sum” the “volume” column. Oh I’m sorry, did I mention you need to know how to use Excel? If this is too difficult, please move along and continue to report inaccurate figures.
-Scroll down and look at how much oil you see by the bold-face word “Venezuela” (or whatever other country you like.
-Multiply it by 1,000 to get the number of barrels in the period in question. Divide by the number of days in that period to get barrels a day.
-Thank Setty. Chocolate always accepted.

Upshot: Through May, Venezuela is not the fourth-biggest supplier of petroleum to the U.S., but third-biggest, just barely behind Mexico. In that period, the U.S. got 1.235 million barrels a day from Venezuela and 1.237 million from Mexico. Canada is always in first place.

In 2009, Venezuela was in second place, with 474,411,000 barrels, or 1.3 million barrels a day.

Updated to spell Barclays right. No apostrophe. Thanks to eagle-eyed reader BM for noting my typo and rightly taking the piss out of me for spelling a major company’s name wrong while claiming to be a stickler for accuracy. BM: priggish, perhaps, but correct.

11 thoughts on “Venezuela oil shipments to USA: Get the numbers right, people

  1. Juan Cristobal

    So… the figures in the spreadsheet on the Virgin Islands – exclude Venezuelan oil? In other words, all Venezuelan oil is listed as “Venezuela” in your spreadsheet?

    Thanks for the post, btw.

    1. sapitosetty Post author

      Good question. I don’t know exactly how it works. It’s odd, as the spreadsheet shows imports from Venezuela to CHRISTIANSTD, VI (the port at Hovensa) and also the shipments from Virgin Islands to the USA. Maybe it’s double-counted. I’ll ask next time I call EIA.

  2. Carol

    Amazing … I wish Americans could see this information in the popular press. How can this word be spread to the “public”?

  3. Marcus Anonymous


    Why is this important?

    You’ve re-aggregated some data.

    There are two globally interesting questions about Venezuelan oil data.

    How much oil does Venezuela really produce and export (thus what are Venezuela’s real export revenues)?

    Venezuela claims it produces and exports about 600,000 per day more than the third party estimates looking at partner and tanker tracking data. That would generate maybe 1/3 more export revenue.

    What you have here merely changes the classification of EIA export data. It doesn’t mean that EIA is missing shipments. It doesn’t change Venezuela’s financial picture.

    What is the production trend? Has Venezuelan production been declining since the PDVSA strike?
    I did your calculation for 2004 and got 1.85 mbd which is more than in 2009 or 2010.

    So at least the trend is going down for exports to the U.S. Once again, it does not support the Bolivarian position.

    But I’m confused about one other thing. Shouldn’t you be arguing that we should add up both VI and Venezuela to get a rough estimate of US imports from Venezuela (although that has other problems)?

  4. sapitosetty Post author

    Good question Marcus. It’s not all that important. It’s just that I get annoyed when there are persistent wrong numbers out there. It was annoying when I was a wire reporter, and my editors didn’t have time to listen to this lengthy explanation, and I was always left saying that Venezuela is “the fourth-biggest supplier of oil to the mainland U.S.” when it’s much more interesting to say “the second-biggest exporter of oil and refined products to the U.S.”

    What set me off today was a Barclay’s note about PDVSA that showed monthly data from the wrong table. As you say, the trend is the same, no matter what: down. PDVSA has problems. My point here, as always, is that the situation in Venezuela is bad enough without anyone needing to exaggerate. When people exaggerate, it undermines their argument.

    Plus this is a chance to show off just how much of an oil wonk I am, on the off chance that one of the big companies or agencies that read the blog every day might call and offer me a bunch of money to do some consulting.

  5. sapitosetty Post author

    Oh and no, adding VI and Venezuela data doesn’t give you the Venezuela total. The proportion of crude that Hovensa gets from Venezuela varies from month to month, and theoretically could drop to zero (though that would violate a supply agreement).

  6. Marcus Anonymous

    So aren’t you still missing the oil exported to Hovensa and then re-exported to the U.S.?

  7. Mick

    Someone should let Chavez’s government funded poor know that the evil capitalist empire supplied over $30,000,000,000 to their 21st century socialist experiment. I am guessing that it won’t come up in one of his rants.

  8. Marcus Anonymous

    The interesting question is: “If Venezuela produces as much oil as it says it does, 600,000 bpd more than the EIA and IEA say it produces, then where does it go?”

  9. Elio Ohep

    Ten years ago, I ask the same question, and got from the EIA that they do take account the Hovensa imports in the stats.

    You should ask them now, it will interesting to see what they say.

    Petroleumworld’s Editor

Comments are closed.