By DAVID BIRD
NEW YORK -- US exports of gasoline to Venezuela climbed to a record high of 85,000 bpd in November, data released Friday by the federal Energy Information Administration show.
The volume of gasoline shipped to the South American member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries was more than double the October level of 39,000 bpd and topped the previous record of 68,000 bpd set in September.
EIA data show the US has been exporting gasoline to Venezuela in nearly every month since December 2011, when the first shipments since March 2003 occurred.
The exports of gasoline come as Venezuela has suffered persist operating problems at some refineries. The country's largest refinery, Amuay, still has recovered only a little more than 50% of capacity since it was shut down after an August accident.
Despite the EIA data, Venezuela's Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez again denied in recent weeks that the nation is importing gasoline. He said on state-run television that Venezuela only imports gasoline additives, such as metyl tertiary butyl ether, and said data showing gasoline imports isn't accurate.
EIA data show that in addition to the gasoline exports, the US has been exporting MTBE to Venezuela since 2005 and shipped 25,000 bpd in November, making it the biggest customer for US exports of gasoline additive, ahead of Mexico.
From 1993 until early 2011, the US was a net importer of modest volumes of gasoline from Venezuela.
The higher gasoline exports to Venezuela came as US net exports of gasoline to all countries increased modestly in November from October, but fell by 18,%, or 100,000 bpd, from a year earlier, to 452,000 bpd.
The US became a net exporter of gasoline in 2009 and volumes have increased steadily, before easing a bit from the December 2011 peak of 556,000 bpd.
The increased exports come as growth in USdemand for gasoline has slowed, in part due to higher vehicle fuel-mileage regulations. EIA said gasoline demand in November was flat vs a year earlier at the lowest level for the month since 2000.
Net US export of distillate fuel (diesel and heating oil) to all countries averaged 872,000 bpd in November, down from 960,000 bpd in October and the lowest month rate since August, EIA data show. November net exports were 8.3% above the year-earlier level.
Mexico, the Netherlands and Brazil were top destinations for US distillate exports in November. The US was a net import of 7,000 bpd of distillate from Venezuela in the month, after net exports of the fuel at a rate of 29,000 bpd in the previous two months, EIA data show.
The US has been a net exporter of distllate since late 2007. EIA data show November US demand for distillate fuel fell 5% from a year earlier to the lowest level for the month in two years.
Meantime, separate EIA data showed the US imported the most crude oil from Venezuela in November since June 2009.
US crude oil imports have been declining overall, as output of light, sweet crude oil from shale oil fields in soaring, pushing domestic output to the highest level in decades. November crude imports were 8.724 million bpd, down 6.8% from a year earlier, while domestic output rose 14.6% to 6.893 million bpd, the highest level since 1993.
But many refiners are still configured to run the heavy sour crudes produced in Venezuela, or need to mix such crudes with lighter crudes to get an optimal balance for refinery operations. Venezuela ranked as the third-biggest source of foreign crude supplies to the US in November, the first time it edged Mexico from that spot since July 2012.
Crude imports from Venezuela were 1.032 million bpd, a 46% jump from a year earlier, and 11% higher than in October. For the first 11 months of 2012, crude imports from Venezuela of 893,000 bpd were up just 20,000 bpd from the same time in 2011.
Venezuela accounted for 12.7% of total US crude imports, its biggest share since December 2007.
Dow Jones Newswires