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API Monthly Statistical Report for March 2006

Source: API 4/21/2006, Location: North America

With the end of the federal oxygen mandate approaching, API data show a noticeable movement towards greater use of ethanol in gasoline. For example, by the first week of April, the ethanol-blended product's share of reformulated gasoline (RFG) had risen to 67 percent, up from 57 percent one year earlier. Because ethanol is also blended in regions that do not require RFG, particularly in the Midwest, ethanol-blended gasoline's share goes beyond just the RFG pool. By the first week of April, according to data from API's Weekly Statistical Bulletin, ethanol blended gasoline--both RFG and conventional--amounted to fully 40 percent of all gasoline produced in the U.S. That was measurably higher than the 33 percent observed a year earlier.

Shifts towards greater ethanol blending were apparent not only in API's data on refineries and blenders, but for inventories, as well. By the first week of April, U.S. inventories of RBOB, the component needed to make finished ethanol-blended gasoline, had reached 27.6 million barrels, up by nearly 7 million barrels, or fully one-third, from a year earlier. At the same time, inventories of finished gasoline blended with MTBE had dropped, by the first week of April, to 13.3 million barrels, down by 10 million barrels from a year ago. (RBOB stands for "reformulated blendstock for oxygenate blending." This component is typically shipped to the end of the distribution chain and is not blended with ethanol until then to make finished gasoline.)

Meanwhile, in March, several U.S. refineries accounting for about 5 percent of U.S. refining capacity continued to be either out of operation, or in start-up mode, in the aftermath of last year's hurricanes. Input to distillation units, an overall measure of processing volumes, was down 4 percent from last March, the ninth month in a row of year-to-year declines, and all major products except resid showed decreases from year-ago levels.

Deliveries were also down for most major products in March. Gasoline deliveries (a proxy for demand) fell 0.6 percent for the month compared with one year earlier, continuing the weaker growth observed over the past many months' stint of higher prices. Distillate deliveries fell nearly 6 percent for the month, while jet fuel deliveries dropped 1.2 percent. Resid deliveries were the exception, rising 5.0 percent from the same month one year earlier. Total deliveries fell 2.6 percent for the month and 1.5 percent for the quarter.

Domestic crude oil production rose slightly in March as recovery in the Gulf began to slow. March production was within 1.7 percent of pre-Katrina levels even as Federal offshore improvements stalled at nearly 23 percent of crude oil production and 14 percent of natural gas production shut in for the second consecutive month. Meanwhile, Alaskan production fell below 800,000 barrels per day for only the third time since North Slope production began ramping up in 1977 as an oil spill at Prudhoe Bay Gathering Center 2 shut in 100,000 barrels per day for an indefinite period.

Total imports of crude oil and products were 3.0 percent higher in March compared to a year ago, due to a 13.8 percent rise in product imports. The first quarter saw a 4.0 percent increase, with products showing a marked increase to nearly 3.5 million barrels per day while crude oil imports remained steady at 10.0 million barrels per day. Gasoline imports alone (including blending components) rose nearly 15 percent from a year earlier, marking the first time they have exceeded one million barrels per day for the first quarter.

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