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China set to become world’s biggest oil importer

The morning rush hour clogs a highway in Shanghai in this file photo. China is poised to overtake the United States as the world’s leading oil importer this year.

CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS

China is poised to overtake the United States as the world's leading oil importer in October, part of a long-term trend that is forcing the Asian giant to find new supply sources including Canada to fuel its economy.

Chinese crude imports will exceed those of the United States for the first time on a monthly basis in October, and for the entire year in 2014, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said Friday.

"The imminent emergence of China as the world's largest net oil importer has been driven by steady growth in Chinese demand, increased oil production in the United States and a flat level of demand for oil in the U.S. market," the agency said.

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Even with a slowing economy, China's fuel consumption is targeted to increase to nearly 13 million barrels a day next year, a 13-per-cent increase from 2011 levels. In contrast, American fuel use will flat-line at around 18.7 million b/d next year, well below peak consumption of 20.8 million in 2005. But U.S. production is surging, crowding out offshore imports. (Canada's crude exports to the U.S. have climbed along with American domestic production.)

By the end of 2014, China will be importing nearly seven million barrels a day, while U.S. imports will drop to just over five million.

Even as the U.S. breaks its addiction to imported crude, China's dependency will increase, driving both economic and strategic policies aimed at ensuring the country has a secure supply.

Those include encouraging state-owned enterprises to invest in oil production and export infrastructure in places such as Canada, Venezuela and west Africa, and building up its navy to guard the critical sea lanes through which much of its crude must pass.

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About the Author
Global Energy Reporter

Shawn McCarthy is an Ottawa-based, national business correspondent for The Globe and Mail, covering a global energy beat. He writes on various aspects of the international energy industry, from oil and gas production and refining, to the development of new technologies, to the business implications of climate-change regulations. More

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