The number of countries importing U.S. crude oil has jumped since Congress lifted the 40-year-old ban on oil exports late last year, the government said.
Shipments have increased despite the continuing cheap price of crude oil and falling U.S. oil production because of the global supply glut, the Energy Information Administration, the Energy Department's independent analysis arm, said late Wednesday.
Oil exports had been limited under a ban that was initiated in the wake of the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s. Before Congress lifted the ban in December, special permits were required to ship crude oil to other countries.
Since the ban was lifted, the U.S. has sent oil to 16 countries, six more than last year and double the amount in 2014.
U.S. crude oil exports are averaging 501,000 barrels per day in 2016, a 9 percent increase over last year's full-year average.
Critics of lifting the ban said it would drive up domestic fuel costs, which has not been the case. The Obama administration said despite gasoline prices rising slightly this summer, they are still at a decade-low average of about $2 per gallon nationally.
Before the restrictions were lifted, most exports went to Canada. But in March, crude exports to other countries, 259,000 barrels a day, totaled more than the oil shipped to Canada (249,000) for the first time since April 2000, the Energy Information Administration's weekly oil report said. And in May that difference widened to 46,000 barrels as exports reached 662,000 barrels per day.
The top non-Canadian destination is the island of Curacao in the Caribbean Sea, where Venezuela's state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela operates some of its largest refineries. The agency said trade press reports suggest U.S. crude is being used by the Venezuela refiner to lighten its heavier crude oil, which is more difficult to refine.
The Netherlands is the next biggest destination for U.S. crude oil, the agency said. Exports averaged 39,000 barrels per day in the first five months of 2016.
"Other Western European nations, including Italy, France, and the United Kingdom, also rank high on the list of U.S. crude oil export destinations," the weekly report said.
U.S. oil shipments to Europe are benefiting from cheap cargo prices, which are at their lowest since 2009. However, with a narrow price spread between oil prices in the European market and those set in the U.S., the cost advantages of buying U.S. oil is small, the report said.
Without increased production from U.S. drillers, it is not likely that the price differences will change much between the two markets. The global oil glut has caused drillers to curtail operations significantly in the last year, forcing them to lay off hundreds of thousands of workers across the country. The low oil price has made it less economical to drill, given the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that is more expensive than conventional drilling methods used in places such as Saudi Arabia. Fracking, however, has made the U.S. the world's top oil and gas producer.