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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson June 7, 2010

Kerry says U.S. imports more oil now than before 9/11

During a June 6, 2010, appearance on ABC's This Week, Sen. John Kerry -- who is sponsoring a comprehensive energy bill -- discussed the nation's energy future against the backdrop of the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

During an interview with host Jake Tapper, Kerry said, "Here's what's important -- not to be throwing the blame around, but to put America on the course to true energy independence and self-reliance and to begin to wean ourselves from our addiction to oil. ... The United States is losing a major economic transformational moment. Until we begin to do something -- you know, since 9/11, we now actually import more oil than we did before 9/11. It's insulting to common sense."

We decided to check whether Kerry was correct about whether the United States imports more oil today than it did before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The answer is complicated, because there are at least three possible ways to measure it.

The number of barrels of crude oil imported. The U.S. imported 3.32 billion barrels of crude oil in 2000 and 3.40 billion barrels in 2001. Both figures were higher than the number imported in 2009 -- 3.31 billion barrels. 

By this measure, Kerry is incorrect, although just slightly.

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Imported crude oil compared to domestic production. We wondered whether imported crude oil was still increasing as a percentage of all oil in the U.S., even as it dropped in absolute amounts. In fact, that's exactly what happened.

In 2000, oil imports accounted for 61 percent of the total of imports and domestic production, and in 2001, imports accounted for 62 percent. In 2009, the percentage of imports was 63 percent -- slightly higher than it was in either of those years. The underlying cause was that domestic oil production declined between the start of the decade and the end.

By this measure, Kerry is correct, though once again, the difference is modest.

Imported crude oil plus imported unfinished oils. William Brown, who analyzes energy data for the federal government's Energy Information Administration, told PolitiFact that in recent years, there's been a rise in imports of unfinished oils, which are partially refined, taking the place of pure crude oil imports. So he sent us data that combined those two sets of imports.

In 2000, the combination of crude oil and unfinished oils accounted for 9.54 million barrels per day, and in 2001, they accounted for 9.71 million barrels per day. In 2009, that figure was 9.86 million barrels per day.

Adding in unfinished oils to the previous measure of crude oil turns an incorrect statement into a correct one.

Bottom line: There are three ways to analyze the question, and with two of them, Kerry is right that imports have grown. Using the other statistic, he's wrong -- imports have declined. So we rate Kerry's statement Mostly True.

Our Sources

John Kerry, interview on ABC's This Week, June 6, 2010

Energy Information Administration, U.S. Imports of Crude Oil (historical table), accessed June 7, 2010

Energy Information Administration, U.S. Field Production of Crude Oil (historical table), accessed June 7, 2010

Energy Information Administration, statistics for crude oil and unfinished oils imports, accessed June 7, 2010 (provided by EIA)

Energy Information Administration, glossary of energy terminology, accessed June 7, 2010

E-mail interview with William Brown, operations research analyst with the Energy Information Administration, June 7, 2010

E-mail interview with Michael J. Economides, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Houston, June 7, 2010

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