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China about to become world's largest oil importer

Posting in Energy

As China becomes the world's largest oil importer, who will patrol the Middle East sea lanes? How will geopolitics shift? Above, a Chinese oil tanker similar to the vessels that China has been providing to Iran.

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Like Oz's Tin Man, only much louder and clearer, China is calling for the oil can. So much so that the Asian economic giant will surpass the U.S. as the world's largest oil importer in October, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

"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," EIA said in a press release.

While October will mark the first month in which China takes the top spot, the trend will continue as China will hold the same distinction on a yearly basis in 2014, predicted EIA, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy (see chart below).

"U.S. total annual oil production is expected to rise by 28% between 2011 and 2014 to nearly 13 million barrels per day, primarily from shale oil, tight oil, and Gulf of Mexico deepwater plays. In the meantime, Chinese production increases at a much lower rate (6% over this period) and is forecast to be just a third of U.S. production in 2014," EIA said.

China may be reaching out for more of the stuff, but the U.S. will continue to use more, including domestically sourced oil. As EIA noted:

"On the demand side, China's liquid fuels use is expected to grow by 13% between 2011 and 2014 to more than 11 million barrels per day while U.S. demand hovers close to 18.7 million barrels per day, well below the peak U.S. consumption level of 20.8 million barrels per day in 2005."

With China yearning for so much foreign oil, it makes you wonder how geopolitics will change, and which flags might fly from the ships patrolling places like Middle East sea lanes.

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graph of net oil imports for China and the U.S., as explained in the article text

Photo from theiranproject.com. Chart from U.S. Energy Information Administration.

More geopolitical oil on SmartPlanet:

— By on August 12, 2013, 7:41 PM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure