China's Oil Imports Continued Upward Climb in '09


". . .China may need 16.1% of the tradable oil in the world market by 2020."

In the U.S., after years of increasing demand, oil consumption fell by about 5%, to about 19 million bpd.

That didn't happen in China. After posting economic growth of 10.7% in the fourth quarter and 8.7% for the entire year, China is now poised to overtake Japan as the world's second largest economy. And with that economic growth, oil consumption increased, going from 7.83 million bpd in 2008 to almost 8 million bpd in 2009.

More significant is that crude oil imports in 2009 reached 4.1 million bpd, a record high. China's oil production was 1.38 billion barrels and net imports were 1.49 billion barrels. This means that for the first time in the country's history, more than half, or 51.8%, of China's oil needs came from foreign sources.

The second significant fact is that China produced domestically 0.5% less oil in 2009 than in 2008, even after very extensive and expensive efforts to boost production. For 2010, Chinese officials are projecting a 10% increase in domestic output.

The psychological 50% threshold made China's "energy security" an inevitable issue among the country's national press, think tanks and the authorities. The deputy director of the National Energy Board Wu Ning warned in an article that "now the most acute problem in China is the increased importation of crude oil."

Of course the events of 2009 were unavoidable. Since China became a net oil importer in 1993, the amount of oil from overseas increased from 6% to over 50% in merely 16 years. According to China Social Science Academy, China's oil consumption could reach 10.6 million bpd by 2015, and imported oil is likely to reach the U.S. level of 65% of total consumption by 2020. It is estimated that China may need 16.1% of the tradable oil in the world market by 2020.

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