U.S. crude oil inventories at the Cushing storage hub in Oklahoma are down more than 40% from the start of 2021, according to recent findings by the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Crude oil inventories at Cushing—the crude oil delivery point for the NYMEX WTI crude oil futures contract and home to 14% of U.S. commercial tank and underground crude oil working storage capacity—are now 26% lower than normal, based on the EIA’s previous five-year average.

“The storage withdrawals in Cushing are consistent with high crude oil inventory withdrawals elsewhere in the United States and globally in recent months,” the EIA wrote in a Sept. 21 report.

Crude oil and fuel stockpiles in the U.S. have dropped sharply within the past couple of weeks, as refiners along the Gulf Coast and offshore producers continue to recover from Hurricane Ida, which tore through the region last month.

For the week ending Sept. 10, crude oil inventories in Cushing totaled 32.9 million barrels, excluding pipeline fill and stocks in transit by water and rail, representing a 42% decrease since the beginning of the year, the EIA said.

“The decline of 35 million barrels (the equivalent of 1.2 million bbl/d) in June 2021 was the largest decline in U.S. crude oil inventory (including crude oil held in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve) since we began collecting this data in 1981,” the EIA wrote. “In general, inventories tend to decline when consumption exceeds production.”

Weekly Crude Oil Inventories and Storage Capacity at Cushing Oklahoma EIA Graph

Cushing has a storage capacity of 76.6 million barrels, the EIA said citing its latest Working and Net Available Shell Storage Capacity Report. The 32.9 million barrels of crude oil in inventory on Sept. 10 means Cushing had a storage capacity utilization of 43%, according to the government agency.

“Before this year’s decline in inventories, the most recent time that Cushing storage utilization had fallen that low was in late 2018, following disruptions on the Keystone Pipeline system (which extends from Canada through Cushing to export terminals on the Texas Gulf Coast) and after the Diamond Pipeline system (which runs from Cushing to Memphis, Tennessee) entered service,” the EIA said.

To estimate current working storage capacity utilization, the EIA compares weekly reported crude oil inventories with the latest available monthly refinery and tank farm storage capacity. It bases storage capacity utilization estimates on the ratio of reported inventories to working storage capacity, which it defines as the difference in volume between the maximum safe fill capacity and the quantity below which pump suction is ineffective.

The reported crude oil inventories exclude pipeline fill and estimated barrels in transit by tanker ship, barge, rail or truck. The exclusions total 2.5 million barrels at Cushing in the EIA’s latest estimate.