The thirst for petroleum in the United States continued to slow down in 2012, as witnessed by data recently released by the United State Energy Information Administration.

The average daily consumption of petroleum products in 2012 was nearly 18.7 million barrels per day, the lowest since 1997, when average consumption was 18.54 million barrels per day, and well off the average daily consumption of 20.9 million barrels in 2007.

While it is certainly noteworthy that consumption continues to decline in the U.S., it is certainly offset by the continued rise in consumption in developing countries like China, and prices remain high domestically as U.S. based refineries continue to send product overseas. In 2012, the amount of petroleum products exported from the U.S. amounted to the highest daily average ever, some 2.88 million barrels per day, or multiplied across the year, a total of 1.05 billion barrels of petroleum being exported- slightly less than the entire U.S. stockpile of petroleum- which stands today at 1.1 billion barrels.

In the days, months, and years ahead, it is certainly likely that as demand continues to erode in the U.S., exports continue to rise, keeping pressure on prices here at home. It's certainly a winning proposition for refiners, who have the option of selling product where it is fetching the most margin.

Speaking of refineries, the number of them in the United States has slipped again in the last year, falling to 134 operating refineries, 10 idle, for a total of 144. In 2011, the number of refineries was 148, while in 2001, it was 155. It was the 90's that saw an exodus of refineries, with the decade starting with 205 refineries, ending with 159. And while the number of refineries have dropped, capacity has risen.

Since 1990, the capacity of operating refineries has increased 11% to 16.74 million barrels in 2012. We're certainly seeing more production with fewer factilites. In 1990, we had 194 operating refineries with a total capacity of 15.1mb/day. Today in 2012, we have 134 operating refineries with a capacity of 16.74mb/day. So yes, with fewer refineries, we produce more.

Fewer refineries produce more gasoline than they did decades ago, but more of that production is being shipped out of the United States as demand here has dropped. I suspect refineries will continue to play export more petroleum as this continues in the years ahead.