API: US petroleum demand rose in March, first quarter

Steadily rising fuel costs during the first quarter of 2011 appear to have had little impact on total US petroleum deliveries (a measure of demand), according to figures from the American Petroleum Institute (API). First quarter deliveries rose by 5.5% compared with the first quarter in 2010, led by a 7.3% surge in March 2011 (to 20.5 million barrels per day) over the same month in 2010.

For the first quarter over the same period a year ago, deliveries of gasoline were up 4.1%, distillates were up 8.0%, and ultra-low sulfur distillates were up 12.6%. For March, deliveries for gasoline were up 6.1%; distillates were up 11.3%, and ultra-low sulfur distillates were up 21.1% compared with March 2010.

Crude oil production in March 2011 reversed the prior month’s year-over-year declines, moving

higher by 0.3% compared with March 2010, although the dips in January and February offset any gains in March, dragging first quarter volumes lower by 0.2% compared with the prior year.

Refinery production of gasoline and distillates were higher by 4.9% and 22.1% respectively in March, leading to record highs in total downstream production for March and for the first quarter.

Product imports continued their year-over-year declines for the third month in a row, down by 19.4% in March. Total imports of crude oil and petroleum products were down by 2.5% in March. Crude stocks were at their second-highest March level in the past ten years (only below March 2009) while March gasoline stocks were lower than in February and lower than March a year ago.

Strong deliveries continue to indicate growth in the economy. The increase is consistent with expansion in the manufacturing sector reported by the government, although that was relatively modest. The increase is especially significant given the potentially depressing effect of rising prices on fuel demand and amid some prognostications that forward growth in the economy may be more modest than hoped.

—API chief economist John Felmy

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