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US fuel oil demand hits record low 257,000 b/d in 2014, down 50% from 2009: EIA

Houston — US residual fuel oil demand in 2014 was a record low 257,000 b/d, down by half from 2009 and further evidence the product's utility is waning, Energy Information Administration data showed Friday.

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The US EIA published a host of detailed figures for December that also provide a full calendar-year 2014 look at domestic supply and demand trends.

It was another down year for fuel oil, which has set the consumption bar lower for nine consecutive years. The 2014 figure was no exception, even with increased demand from the electric sector during a brutal first quarter winter in the Northeast.

"That included some big utility buying in January-February-March and October-November," an East Coast broker said of 2014's record low. "I'm not sure we see anything like that this year."

With domestic demand all but disappearing, the US has solidified itself as a net export of fuel oil, having been so since April 2011. US fuel oil exports averaged 362,000 b/d last year compared with 172,000 b/d for imports, EIA data show.

However, refiners and blenders have taken note. US fuel oil production was 436,000 b/d in 2014, also a record low since the US government began tracking the data in the mid-1930s. That is due in large part to the changing US crude slate, which has gotten lighter and sweeter and therefore leads to lower refinery yield of fuel oil.

In the nation's largest refining center, the Gulf Coast, the weighted average API gravity of crude input into refineries in 2014 was 31.12 compared to the five-year averaged of 30.31. Meanwhile, the weighted average sulfur content was 1.55%, down from the record-high 1.7% set in 2008, EIA data show.

--John-Laurent Tronche,
--Edited by Richard Rubin,