The Wall Street Journal has an accurate but easy to misconstrue story about the United States' energy picture. "U.S. Nears Milestone: Net Fuel Exporter," the headline reads. The article describes how the US, in a big change from recent decades, may actually export more petroleum products than it imports in 2011. Sounds important, right? And it is. BUT, there is a very big difference between being a net petroleum product exporter and being a net petroleum exporter. We're still importing 8 million barrels of crude oil per day!
What the numbers mean is that we have more refining capacity than we need to supply our domestic needs. So, we import the crude oil, refine it, use almost all of it, and sell a percentage of it to the rest of the world. The biggest surpluses are in "unfinished oils" and "motor gasoline blending components." Mexico's rising petroleum product use is a big part of the story, as you can see in the by-country net import numbers.
So, the Journal's story is good news, in a general sense, but let's not make it bigger than it is. We're still buying massive amounts of crude oil from other countries. Take a look at Atlantic alum Matt Yglesias' post for a quick economic analysis.