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Value of U.S. fuel exports soars to $110.2-billion in first half of 2013

An oil well and storage tanks in Belfield, N.D.

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

The value of U.S. fuel exports has grown faster than other goods and commodities during Barack Obama's presidency, according to a Financial Times analysis, emerging as a driving force behind his goal to double exports by 2015.

The data offer further evidence of how the U.S. domestic energy boom – led by expanding oil and natural gas production and higher prices – is reshaping its economy.

The U.S. became a net exporter of fuel in 2011 for the first time in two decades, as rising exports combined with slower imports.

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According to Census bureau export data reviewed by the FT, the value of petroleum and coal exports more than doubled from $51.5-billion in the year to June 2010 to $110.2-billion in the year to June 2013. This placed it at the top of the rankings of export growth.

Oil and gas exports were second, with a 68.3-per-cent increase over the same period but based on smaller nominal values. Primary metals and livestock exports have also experienced strong export growth under Mr Obama, well above the average 32.7 per cent for all commodities.

Rayola Dougher, a senior economic adviser at the American Petroleum Institute, a powerful lobby group for the U.S. oil and gas sector, said: "We have been a real engine of growth at a time when other industries have been languishing."

In January 2010, Mr. Obama called for a doubling of exports within five years in an ambitious effort to reboot the U.S.'s industrial base. At the time, the U.S. was producing monthly exports worth $143-billion, with goods exports accounting for $99-billion. Since then, U.S. exports have gradually increased, but the 2015 goal remains elusive.

By this June, monthly U.S. exports overall were worth $191-billion, with goods exports at $134-billion, rising about one-third compared with three and a half years earlier.

Though the goal of doubling exports has already been met with fuel products, the traditional manufacturing activity that Mr. Obama had in mind when launching the National Export Initiative still has a way to go.

"When the president talks about trade, when he talks about creating middle class jobs, when he talks about turning the U.S. economy into an economy that lasts, he usually talks about manufacturing, those are the classic American living wage jobs," said Alan Tonelson, an economist at the U.S. Business and Industry Council. "There's no chance that he's been thinking mainly about petroleum."

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The commerce department declined to comment.

The Obama administration has taken some steps towards boosting energy exports – such as starting to approve new facilities for the export of liquefied natural gas. But some business lobbyists say the rise in US energy exports has come in spite of White House policies, rather than as a result of them.

"They could really blow the door off our trade deficit if they tore some of those barriers down," said Christopher Guith, vice-president for policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy.

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